Camphor activates and strongly desensitizes the transient receptor potential vanilloid subtype 1 channel in a vanilloid-independent mechanism

J Neurosci. 2005 Sep 28;25(39):8924-37. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2574-05.2005.


Camphor is a naturally occurring compound that is used as a major active ingredient of balms and liniments supplied as topical analgesics. Despite its long history of common medical use, the underlying molecular mechanism of camphor action is not understood. Capsaicin and menthol, two other topically applied agents widely used for similar purposes, are known to excite and desensitize sensory nerves by acting on two members of transient receptor potential (TRP) channel superfamily: heat-sensitive TRP vanilloid subtype 1 (TRPV1) and cold-sensitive TRP channel M8, respectively. Camphor has recently been shown to activate TRPV3, and here we show that camphor also activates heterologously expressed TRPV1, requiring higher concentrations than capsaicin. Activation was enhanced by phospholipase C-coupled receptor stimulation mimicking inflamed conditions. Similar camphor-activated TRPV1-like currents were observed in isolated rat DRG neurons and were strongly potentiated after activation of protein kinase C with phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate. Camphor activation of rat TRPV1 was mediated by distinct channel regions from capsaicin, as indicated by camphor activation in the presence of the competitive inhibitor capsazepine and in a capsaicin-insensitive point mutant. Camphor did not activate the capsaicin-insensitive chicken TRPV1. TRPV1 desensitization is believed to contribute to the analgesic actions of capsaicin. We found that, although camphor activates TRPV1 less effectively, camphor application desensitized TRPV1 more rapidly and completely than capsaicin. Conversely, TRPV3 current sensitized after repeated camphor applications, which is inconsistent with the analgesic role of camphor. We also found that camphor inhibited several other related TRP channels, including ankyrin-repeat TRP 1 (TRPA1). The camphor-induced desensitization of TRPV1 and block of TRPA1 may underlie the analgesic effects of camphor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ankyrins
  • Calcium Channels / drug effects
  • Camphor / pharmacology*
  • Capsaicin / pharmacology
  • Cell Line
  • Drug Synergism
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electrophysiology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / drug effects*
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • TRPA1 Cation Channel
  • TRPC Cation Channels
  • TRPV Cation Channels / drug effects
  • TRPV Cation Channels / metabolism*
  • TRPV Cation Channels / physiology
  • Tachyphylaxis
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate / pharmacology


  • Ankyrins
  • Calcium Channels
  • Ion Channels
  • TRPA1 Cation Channel
  • TRPC Cation Channels
  • TRPV Cation Channels
  • TRPV3 protein, rat
  • Trpa1 protein, rat
  • Trpv1 protein, rat
  • Camphor
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate
  • Capsaicin