Reduced heat sensitivity and epidermal nerve fiber immunostaining following single applications of a high-concentration capsaicin patch

Pain. 2004 Oct;111(3):360-367. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2004.07.017.


Capsaicin-containing plant extracts have been used as topical treatments for a variety of pain syndromes for many centuries. Current products containing capsaicin in low concentrations (usually 0.025-0.075% w/w) have shown efficacy against a variety of pain conditions in clinical studies. However, in order to produce significant analgesic effects, these formulations require frequent re-dosing, often as much as three to five times daily for several weeks. Previous functional and immunohistochemical studies following prolonged exposures to low-concentration capsaicin cream suggested that the duration and onset of analgesic efficacy correlate with a reduction of cutaneous nociceptive sensory nerve fiber responsiveness and immunostaining. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether a single topical application of a high-concentration capsaicin-containing (8%w/w) patch for 120 min or less would induce similar effects on cutaneous nociceptive nerve fibers. Seven days following patch application, changes in heat and cold perception thresholds were determined by quantitative sensory testing and punch biopsies were collected to assess epidermal nerve fiber (ENF) immunostaining density at the application site using PGP 9.5 as a marker. The results show a significant reduction of heat, but not cold, sensitivity and reduction of ENF immunostaining with high-capsaicin concentration patch applications for 60 or 120 min, compared to placebo patch applications. Application sites exposed to low-capsaicin concentration (0.04%w/w) patches for 120 min or high-concentration patches for 30 min were not significantly different from placebo with respect to either thermal threshold detection or ENF immunostaining. The ability of a single 60 min high-concentration patch application to mimic effects produced by prolonged exposure to low-concentration capsaicin creams suggests a new approach to the management of chronic pain syndromes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Capsaicin / administration & dosage*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Epidermis / drug effects*
  • Epidermis / physiology
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers / drug effects*
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects*
  • Pain Measurement / methods


  • Capsaicin