Neurotoxic effect of capsaicin in mammals.

G. Jancsó, E. Király, G. Such, F. Joó, A. Nagy

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Capsaicin is now widely used to explore and/or prove the role of peptide-containing primary afferent neurones in different somato- and viscerosensory functions. The present paper deals with the morphological effects of capsaicin administered according to currently used experimental paradigms. As it has been repeatedly confirmed in the recent literature, administration of capsaicin to newborn mammals results in a highly selective degeneration of a particular population of small sized, B-type primary afferent neurones located in spinal and cranial sensory ganglia. Chemosensitive i.e. capsaicin sensitive primary sensory neurones (CPSNs) correspond to primary sensory ganglion cells which contain neuropeptides. The permanent functional impairments and the decrease in the peptide contents of the sensory neurones observed after neonatal capsaicin treatment may be accounted for an irreversible loss of CPSNs. Direct application of capsaicin to peripheral nerves results in an apparently irreversible functional impairment of unmyelinated afferent fibres implicated in nociceptive, viscerosensory and neurogenic inflammatory mechanisms. Morphological observations indicate that perineural treatment with capsaicin initiates a selective but delayed degeneration process of unmyelinated afferent nerve fibres presumably due to an inhibition of intraneuronal transport mechanisms. In contrast with perineural capsaicin treatment affecting the chemistry and function of the whole sensory neurone, injection of capsaicin into the subarachnoid space results in an irreversible abolition of the "afferent" but not the "efferent" function of CPSNs. Accordingly, noxious thermal or chemical stimuli applied to the peripheral innervation areas of the trigeminal nucleus caudalis or the affected segments of the spinal cord fail to induce nociceptive reflexes because of the degeneration of the central terminals of CPSNs. However, in these same skin areas, application of chemical irritants invariably evoked the neurogenic inflammatory response, indicating that CPSNs deprived of their central terminals maintain their capacity to synthesize and release the peptide(s) responsible for the initiation of that response. In contrast with previous findings, our recent studies furnished evidence for a selective neurodegenerative action of systemically injected capsaicin in adult mammals, as well. Therefore, some of the irreversible functional impairments produced by capsaicin in adult animals may result from the degeneration of a particular subpopulation of CPSNs.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-313
Number of pages19
JournalActa physiologica Hungarica
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1987


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)

Cite this

Jancsó, G., Király, E., Such, G., Joó, F., & Nagy, A. (1987). Neurotoxic effect of capsaicin in mammals. Acta physiologica Hungarica, 69(3-4), 295-313.