Capsaicin, the pungent component of hot peppers, and the venom of the spider Phoneutria nigriventer are able to activate sensory nerves resulting in cutaneous neurogenic plasma extravasation. This study was undertaken to compare the ability of these substances to evoke oedema in the rat hind-paw and mechanisms underlying this effect. Subplantar injection of either Phoneutria nigriventer venom (PNV; 1-100 microg/paw) or capsaicin (10-200 microg/paw) caused a significant paw oedema that was potentiated by CGRP (10 pmol/paw). In rats treated neonatally with capsaicin to deplete neuropeptides, the paw oedema induced by either PNV (100 microg/paw) or capsaicin (100 microg/paw) was partially reduced (P<0.05). The tachykinin NK1 receptor antagonist SR140333 (0.2 micromol/kg; i.v.) prevented the paw oedema induced by the tachykinin NK1 receptor agonist GR73632 (30 pmol/paw) and partially reduced paw oedema induced by PNV or capsaicin. Treatment of rats with compound 48/80 (5 mg/kg; s.c. 3 days) or with both H1 receptor antagonist (mepyramine; 1 nmol/paw) and 5-HT receptor antagonist (methysergide; 1 nmol/paw) significantly inhibited PNV- or capsaicin-induced paw oedema. The combined treatment with mepyramine and methysergide and SR140333 further reduced PNV- and capsaicin-induced paw oedema. The bradykinin B2 receptor antagonist Hoe 140 affected neither PNV- nor capsaicin-induced responses. Our results suggest that PNV and capsaicin each induce paw oedema that is partially mediated by activation of sensory fibers culminating in the release of substance P as well as by activation of mast cells which in turn release amines such as histamine and 5-HT.