Capsaicin, the pungent constituent of chili peppers, represents the paradigm for the capsaicinoids or vanilloids, a family of compounds shown to stimulate and then desensitize specific subpopulations of sensory receptors, including C-polymodal nociceptors, A-delta mechanoheat nociceptors and warm receptors of the skin, as well as enteroceptors of thin afferent fibers. An exciting recent advance in the field has been the finding that resiniferatoxin (RTX), a naturally occurring diterpene containing a homovanillic acid ester, a key structural motif of capsaicin, functions as an ultrapotent capsaicin analog. For most of the responses characteristic of capsaicin, RTX is 100-10,000 fold more potent. Structure/activity analysis indicates, however, that RTX and related homovanillyl-diterpene esters display distinct spectra of activity. Specific [3H]RTX binding provides the first direct proof for the existence of vanilloid receptors. We expect that the RTX class of vanilloids will promote rapid progress in understanding of vanilloid structure/activity requirements and mechanism.