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Papers of the Week

Papers: 26 Oct 2019 - 1 Nov 2019

Animal Studies

2019 Nov/Dec




The TRPA1 ion channel contributes to sensory-guided avoidance of menthol in mice.


Lemon CH, Norris JE, Heldmann BA
eNeuro. 2019 Nov/Dec; 6(6).
PMID: 31624176.


The flavoring agent menthol elicits complex orosensory and behavioral effects including perceived cooling at low concentrations, and irritation and ingestive avoidance at higher intensities. Oral menthol engages the cold-activated transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channel TRP melastatin 8 (TRPM8) on trigeminal fibers, although its aversive feature was discussed to involve activation of TRP ankyrin 1 (TRPA1) associated with nociceptive processing. Here we studied the roles of TRPM8 and TRPA1 in orosensory responding to menthol by subjecting mice gene-deficient for either channel to brief-access exposure tests, which measure immediate licking responses to fluid stimuli to capture sensory/tongue control of behavior. Stimuli included aqueous concentration series of (-)-menthol (0 [water], 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1.0, 1.5, and 2.3 mM) and the aversive bitter taste stimulus quinine-HCl (0, 0.01, 0.03, 0.1, 0.3, 1, and 3 mM). Concentration-response data were generated from daily brief-access tests conducted in lickometers, which recorded the number of licks water-restricted mice emitted to a randomly selected stimulus concentration over a block of several 10 sec stimulus presentations. Wild-type mice showed aversive orosensory responses to menthol above 0.7 mM. Oral aversion to menthol was reduced in mice deficient for TRPA1, but not TRPM8. Oral aversion to quinine was similar between TRPA1 mutant and control mice but stronger than avoidance of menthol. This implied menthol avoidance under the present conditions represented a moderate form of oral aversion. These data reveal TRPA1 contributes to the oral sensory valence of menthol and have implications for how input from TRPA1 and TRPM8 shapes somatosensory-guided behaviors. Menthol is used in confectionery, tobacco, and oral consumer products to add a pleasant "coolness" to their flavor appeal. Yet menthol's sensation is complex and includes coolness at low but irritation at high concentrations. Elucidating mechanisms that underlie menthol's aversive flavor component would facilitate understanding of how trigeminal circuits distinguish noxious from innocuous stimuli. Although engaging the cold receptor TRPM8, menthol was discussed to induce oral irritation through its activation of TRPA1, which is expressed on nociceptive fibers usually devoid of TRPM8. Here we found mice gene-deficient for TRPA1, but not TRPM8, show reduced aversion to menthol in an oral sensory-guided behavioral task. These results have implications for how TRPM8 and TRPA1 afferents contribute to hedonic tone during somatosensory-influenced behaviors.