Capsaicin is a neurotoxin that can deplete sensory nerves of their content of substance P and interfere with certain sensory functions, such as responses of animals to noxious heat stimuli. In adult guinea pigs, a species that is susceptible to the effects of capsaicin on both substance P content and sensory function, capsaicin induces selective depletion of substance P from dorsal root ganglia and the dorsal spinal cord, sites of the cell bodies and central terminals of primary afferent neurons, respectively. As the onset of thermal analgesia in guinea pigs precedes depletion of substance P, direct neural actions of capsaicin probably account for its effects on sensory function. Capsaicin interferes with the retrograde transport of nerve growth factor (NGF) to the cell bodies of sensory nerves. Decreased availability of NGF at the site of neural protein synthesis leads to decreased synthesis of substance P. After failure of synthesis of substance P, the content of the peptide in sensory nerves gradually decreases until depletion occurs.