Chili pepper chemical plays tricks on nerves

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2021-09-19 02:30:03

"This study gives one potential piece in the puzzle of how capsaicin works as a local analgesic," says Tibor Rohacs. (Credit: Dan Iggers/Flickr)

The chemical that gives chili peppers their burn, capsaicin, is also a popular pain-reliever found in over-the-counter and prescription medications.

In Science Signaling, Tibor Rohacs and a team of researchers from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School report new findings on how a nerve mechanism is activated by capsaicin to block pain signals.

Rohacs says his lab has been studying ion channels found in sensory nerve terminals that respond to heat and other stimuli. In particular, his work has focused on an ion channel known as TRPV1, the capsaicin receptor, and Piezo2, a newly identified ion channel that mediates touch sensation.

“TRPV1 is a heat sensor, at least physiologically, and it has a chemical activator, capsaicin, which we all know is in chili peppers,” Rohacs explains. “They feel hot because they activate a heat-sensitive ion channel and they trick you into the sensation of heat. And it’s also pretty painful.

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