BACKGROUND: Tramadol is an effective analgesic substance widely used in medical practice. Its therapeutic action have been mainly attributed to the activation of μ-opioid receptors as well as to the inhibition of neurotransmitter reuptake mechanisms and various voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels of the nociceptive system. As transient receptor potential vanilloid-1 (TRPV1, "the capsaicin receptor") has been shown to function as a central integrator molecule of pain sensation, our aim in the current study was to define the involvement of TRPV1 in the complex mechanism of action of tramadol. METHODS: To achieve these goals, we used single-cell Ca-imaging as well as fluorescent image plate reader assays on Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells heterologously over-expressing TRPV1. RESULTS: We found that (1) tramadol, similar to the well-known TRPV1 agonist, capsaicin, significantly increased [Ca2+]i of TRPV1-CHO cells in a concentrationdependent fashion; (2) its effect was reversibly prevented by the TRPV1 antagonist capsazepine; (3) repeated application of tramadol resulted in marked tachyphylaxis; and (4) tramadol did not modify [Ca2+]i in control (empty vector expressing) CHO cells. CONCLUSIONS: Collectively, these findings strongly support the intriguing and novel concept that tramadol acts as an agonist of TRPV1. Considering that activation of TRPV1 on sensory neurons is followed by a local release of vasoactive neuropeptides and a marked desensitization of the afferent fibers (hence termination of pain sensation), our findings may equally explain both the desired analgesic as well as the often-seen, yet "unexpected," local side effects (e.g., initiation of burning pain and erythema) of tramadol.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine