Send to

Choose Destination
Neuroscience. 1995 Apr;65(4):1099-108.

Capsaicin-induced neurotoxicity in cultured dorsal root ganglion neurons: involvement of calcium-activated proteases.

Author information

Department of Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


We examined the mechanism by which capsaicin produces its toxic effects on cultures of rat sensory neurons. Capsaicin caused a robust increase in [Ca2+]i in a subpopulation of cultured rat dorsal root ganglion neurons. Similarly, a brief exposure to capsaicin resulted in delayed degeneration of a subpopulation of the cells. This subpopulation (about 35% of the cells present) was characterized by a capsaicin-induced uptake of Co2+, which could be detected cytochemically. Both capsaicin-induced Co2+ uptake and capsaicin-induced cell death were blocked by the capsaicin antagonist Ruthenium Red. Cell death was also prevented by removal of external calcium or by inhibiting calcium-activated proteases such as calpain. Evidence that calpain activity was increased was provided by examining the amount of degradation of the preferred calpain substrate alpha-spectrin. Capsaicin treatment produced a significant increase in the levels of the 150,000 molecular weight spectrin breakdown product. Furthermore, applying the protease inhibitors E64 or MDL 28,170 reduced capsaicin-mediated cell death. It is concluded that capsaicin kills a subpopulation of sensory neurons by activating a receptor-operated channel. The consequent Ca2+ ion influx causes large increases in [Ca2+]i and subsequent activation of Ca(2+)-sensitive proteases. This model provides support for the role of [Ca2+]i as the orchestrator of delayed neuronal degeneration.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center