Forty years in capsaicin research for sensory pharmacology and physiology

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254 Citations (Scopus)


Capsaicin, the pungent ingredient of chilli peppers has become a "hot" topic in neuroscience with yearly publications over half thousand papers. It is outlined in this survey how this exciting Hungarian research field emerged from almost complete ignorance. From the initial observation of the phenomenon of "capsaicin desensitization", a long-lasting chemoanalgesia and impairment in thermoregulation against heat, the chain of new discoveries which led to the formulation of the existence of a "capsaicin receptor" on C-polymodal nociceptors is briefly summarized. Neurogenic inflammation is mediated by these C-afferents which are supplied by the putative capsaicin receptor and were termed as "capsaicin sensitive" chemoceptive afferents. They opened new avenues in local peptidergic regulation in peripheral tissues. It has been suggested that in contrast to the classical axon reflex theory, the capsaicin-sensitive sensory system subserves a "dual sensory-efferent" function whereby initiation of afferent signals and neuropeptide release are coupled at the same nerve endings. Furthermore, in the skin at threshold stimuli which do not evoke sensation elicit already maximum efferent response as enhanced microcirculation. In isolated organ preparations large scale of new type of peptidergic capsaicin-sensitive neurogenic smooth muscle responses were revealed after the first one was described by ourselves on the guinea-pig ileum in 1978. Recently the "capsaicin receptor" has been cloned and it is now named as the "transient receptor potential vanilloid 1" (TRPV1). Hence, capsaicin research led to the discovery of the first temperature-gated ion channel gated by noxious heat, protons, vanilloids and endogenous ligands as anandamide, N-oleoyldopamine and lipoxygenase products. Another recent achievement is the discovery of a novel "unorthodox" neurohumoral regulatory mechanism mediated by somatostatin. Somatostatin released from the TRPV1-expressing nerve endings reaches the circulation and elicits systemic antiinflammatory and analgesic "sensocrine" functions with counter-regulatory influence e.g. in Freund's adjuvant-induced chronic arthritis. Nociceptors supplied by TRPV1 and sst4 somatostatin receptors has become nowadays promising targets for drug development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-384
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2004


  • Axon reflex
  • Capsaicin
  • Capsaicin-sensitive afferent
  • Neurogenic inflammation
  • Polymodal nociceptor
  • Sensocrine function
  • Sensory-efferent function
  • Somatostatin
  • TRPV1
  • Vanilloid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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