Menthol, the cooling natural product of peppermint, is widely used in medicinal preparations for the relief of acute and inflammatory pain in sports injuries, arthritis, and other painful conditions. Menthol induces the sensation of cooling by activating TRPM8, an ion channel in cold-sensitive peripheral sensory neurons. Recent studies identified additional targets of menthol, including the irritant receptor, TRPA1, voltage-gated ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors. It remains unclear which of these targets contribute to menthol-induced analgesia, or to the irritating side effects associated with menthol therapy. Here, we use genetic and pharmacological approaches in mice to probe the role of TRPM8 in analgesia induced by L-menthol, the predominant analgesic menthol isomer in medicinal preparations. L-menthol effectively diminished pain behavior elicited by chemical stimuli (capsaicin, acrolein, acetic acid), noxious heat, and inflammation (complete Freund's adjuvant). Genetic deletion of TRPM8 completely abolished analgesia by L-menthol in all these models, although other analgesics (acetaminophen) remained effective. Loss of L-menthol-induced analgesia was recapitulated in mice treated with a selective TRPM8 inhibitor, AMG2850. Selective activation of TRPM8 with WS-12, a menthol derivative that we characterized as a specific TRPM8 agonist in cultured sensory neurons and in vivo, also induced TRPM8-dependent analgesia of acute and inflammatory pain. L-menthol- and WS-12-induced analgesia was blocked by naloxone, suggesting activation of endogenous opioid-dependent analgesic pathways. Our data show that TRPM8 is the principal mediator of menthol-induced analgesia of acute and inflammatory pain. In contrast to menthol, selective TRPM8 agonists may produce analgesia more effectively, with diminished side effects.
Keywords: Acetic acid; Acrolein; Analgesia; Capsaicin; Heat; Inflammatory pain; Menthol; TRPA1; TRPM8; TRPV1; Visceral pain.
Copyright © 2013 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.