The sensory neuron stimulant drug capsaicin stimulates primary afferent nerve endings in the guinea-pig small intestine, which in turn activate myenteric cholinergic neurons by an unknown mechanism. The tachykinins substance P and neurokinin A are present in primary afferent neurons. This study was performed to assess the possible involvement of endogenous tachykinins acting via neurokinin-1, neurokinin-2 and neurokinin-3 receptors in the contractile effect of capsaicin in the isolated guinea-pig ileum and oesophagus by using the receptor-specific antagonists GR 82334 (3 microM) for neurokinin-1 receptors, MEN 10627 (3 microM; ileum) or MEN 11420 (1 microM; oesophagus) for neurokinin-2 receptors and SR 142801 (0.1 microM) for neurokinin-3 receptors. In the ileum, the peak contraction evoked by capsaicin (2 microM) was not reduced when tachykinin neurokinin-1, neurokinin-2 or neurokinin-3 receptors were blocked separately, whereas an inhibition of neurokinin-3 receptors diminished the area under the curve of the capsaicin response. A combined blockade of neurokinin-1 and neurokinin-3 receptors significantly depressed the effect of capsaicin; the amplitude of the contractile response was 53.3+/-3.7% of the maximal longitudinal spasm in control preparations, whereas in the presence of GR 82334 plus SR 142801 it reached only 27.6+/-5% (P<0.001, Kruskal-Wallis test; n=9 and 10, respectively). Also, the area under the curve of the contractile response to capsaicin was more than 85% lower in the group of preparations treated with GR 82334 plus SR 142801 than in the control group (P<0.001). Including a neurokinin-2 blocker in the combination did not produce any further inhibition. A concomitant tachyphylaxis to substance P (natural neurokinin-1 receptor stimulant) and the neurokinin-3 receptor agonist senktide (5 and 1 microM, respectively) also reduced the contractile effect of capsaicin. In the oesophagus, capsaicin (1 microM) induced biphasic contractions which were strongly inhibited by atropine (1 microM) or capsaicin pretreatment (1 microM for 10 min). Here again, a blockade of tachykinin neurokinin-1, neurokinin-2 or neurokinin-3 receptors separately failed to inhibit the response to capsaicin, whereas a combined blockade of any two tachykinin receptors caused a partial inhibition. The reduction of the contractile effect of capsaicin was strongest when all three tachykinin receptors were blocked. In seven control preparations, peaks for the first and second phases of contraction reached 35.3+/-3.7% and 20+/-3.2% of maximal longitudinal spasm; the corresponding values in the presence of a combination of GR 82334, MEN 11420 and SR 142801 were 7.5+/-0.8% and 9.1+/-2.2%, respectively (n=6, P<0.001 and 0.05, respectively). Tetrodotoxin (0.5 microM) practically abolished the contractile effect of capsaicin in both tissues studied. It is concluded that an interplay of neuronal tachykinin neurokinin-1 and neurokinin-3 receptors (ileum) and neurokinin-1, neurokinin-2 and neurokinin-3 receptors (oesophagus) is involved in the contractile action of capsaicin, probably in mediating excitation of myenteric neurons by tachykinins released from primary afferents. In both tissues, there also seems to be a non-tachykininergic component of the capsaicin-induced contraction.