Scientists at the University of Hull have identified a new group of molecules on the surface of nerve cells that trigger cough in people when the nerve cells irritated.
According to the researchers, the findings could lead to new drugs to treat coughing.
"Cough is the commonest symptom for which medical advice is sought and accounts for over half of new patient consultations to a GP," the Scotsman quoted Professor Alyn Morice, a clinical pharmacologist at the University of Hull, as saying.
"Chronic cough can be socially isolating and disabling, and people come from all over Europe to my cough clinic because the cough is ruining their lives. Yet treatment options are limited, with remedies little better than honey and lemon," Morice added.
Morice and his colleagues have identified a group of protein molecules called receptors that sit on the surface of nerve cells and allow signals to be passed inside nerve cells.
They have shown the "very cold" receptor (TRPA1) on nerve cells is stimulated by a cinnamon extract in normal volunteers, leading them to cough.
The researchers have also successfully cloned the TRPA1 receptor to allow them to investigate the nerve endings.
The researchers have just begun a large-scale patient study that will try to identify existing blocking agents, although the ultimate goal of research is to restore the cough reflex to normal levels, rather than stop it.
The study has been presented at the British Pharmacological Society's Summer Meeting in Edinburgh this week.