Ca2+ and calpain mediate capsaicin-induced ablation of axonal terminals expressing transient receptor potential vanilloid 1

Sheng Wang, Sen Wang, Jamila Asgar, John Joseph, Jin Y. Ro, Feng Wei, James N. Campbell, Man Kyo Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Capsaicin is an ingredient in spicy peppers that produces burning pain by activating transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1), a Ca2+-permeable ion channel in nociceptors. Capsaicin has also been used as an analgesic, and its topical administration is approved for the treatment of certain pain conditions. The mechanisms underlying capsaicin-induced analgesia likely involve reversible ablation of nociceptor terminals. However, the mechanisms underlying these effects are not well understood. To visualize TRPV1-lineage axons, a genetically engineered mouse model was used in which a fluorophore is expressed under the TRPV1 promoter. Using a combination of these TRPV1-lineage reporter mice and primary afferent cultures, we monitored capsaicin-induced effects on afferent terminals in real time. We found that Ca2+ influx through TRPV1 is necessary for capsaicin-induced ablation of nociceptive terminals. Although capsaicin-induced mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake was TRPV1-dependent, dissipation of the mitochondrial membrane potential, inhibition of the mitochondrial transition permeability pore, and scavengers of reactive oxygen species did not attenuate capsaicin-induced ablation. In contrast, MDL28170, an inhibitor of the Ca2+-dependent protease calpain, diminished ablation. Furthermore, overexpression of calpastatin, an endogenous inhibitor of calpain, or knockdown of calpain 2 also decreased ablation. Quantitative assessment of TRPV1-lineage afferents in the epidermis of the hind paws of the reporter mice showed that EGTA and MDL28170 diminished capsaicin-induced ablation. Moreover, MDL28170 prevented capsaicin-induced thermal hypoalgesia. These results suggest that TRPV1/Ca2+/calpain-dependent signaling plays a dominant role in capsaicin-induced ablation of nociceptive terminals and further our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of capsaicin on nociceptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8291-8303
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 19 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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