Involvement of transient receptor potential A1 channel in algesic and analgesic actions of the organic compound limonene

Eur J Pain. 2016 Aug;20(7):1155-65. doi: 10.1002/ejp.840. Epub 2016 Mar 31.


Background: TRPA1 is a Ca-permeable nonselective cation channel expressed in sensory neurons and acts as a nocisensor. Recent reports show that some monoterpenes, a group of naturally occurring organic compounds, modulate TRP channel activity. Here, we report that limonene, being contained in citrus fruits and mushrooms, shows a unique bimodal action on TRPA1 channel.

Methods: We examine the effects of limonene on sensory neurons from wild-type, TRPV1- and TRPA1-gene-deficient mice and on heterologously expressed channels in vitro. Molecular determinants were identified with using mutated channels. Cellular excitability is monitored with ratiometric Ca imaging. Nociceptive and analgesic actions of limonene are also examined in vivo.

Results: In wild-type mouse sensory neurons, limonene increased the intracellular Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+) ]i ), which was inhibited by selective inhibitors of TRPA1 but not TRPV1. Limonene-responsive neurons highly corresponded to TRPA1 agonist-sensitive ones. Limonene failed to stimulate sensory neurons from the TRPA1 (-/-) mouse. Heterologously expressed mouse TRPA1 was activated by limonene. Intraplantar injection of limonene elicited acute pain, which was significantly less in TRPA1 (-/-) mice. Systemic administration of limonene reduced nociceptive behaviours evoked by H2 O2 . In both heterologously and endogenously expressed TRPA1, a low concentration of limonene significantly inhibited H2 O2 -induced TRPA1 activation. TRPA1 activation by limonene was abolished in H2 O2 -insensitive cysteine-mutated channels.

Conclusions: Topically applied limonene stimulates TRPA1, resulting in elicitation of acute pain, but its systemic application inhibits nociception induced by oxidative stress. Because limonene is a safe compound, it may be utilized for pain control due to its inhibition of TRPA1 channels. What does this study add: Limonene, a monoterpene in essential oils of various plants, has been known for its antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties. However, molecular basis of their actions has not been identified. This study shows that limonene activates nociceptive TRPA1 and elicits acute pain, when it is topically applied. In addition, systemic application of limonene exerts inhibitory effects on nociception induced by an oxidative stress-induced TRPA1 activation.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / etiology*
  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cyclohexenes / pharmacology*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Limonene
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nociception / drug effects*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / drug effects*
  • TRPA1 Cation Channel / drug effects*
  • TRPA1 Cation Channel / physiology
  • Terpenes / pharmacology*


  • Analgesics
  • Cyclohexenes
  • TRPA1 Cation Channel
  • Terpenes
  • Limonene