Resiniferatoxin, a phorbol-related diterpene, acts as an ultrapotent analog of capsaicin, the irritant constituent in red pepper

Neuroscience. 1989;30(2):515-20. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(89)90269-8.


Resiniferatoxin is an extremely irritant diterpene present in the latex of several members of the genus Euphorbia. Its mechanism of action has been shown to be clearly distinct from that of the structurally related phorbol esters. Since resiniferatoxin possesses a 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl substituent, a key feature of capsaicin, the major pungent ingredient of plants of the genus Capsicum, we examined the ability of resiniferatoxin to induce typical capsaicin responses. We report here that treatment of rats with resiniferatoxin, like treatment with capsaicin, caused hypothermia, neurogenic inflammation, and pain. These responses were followed by loss of thermoregulation, by desensitization to neurogenic inflammation, and by chemical and thermal analgesia, with cross-tolerance between resiniferatoxin and capsaicin. Resiniferatoxin was 3 4 orders of magnitude more potent than capsaicin for the effects on thermoregulation and neurogenic inflammation. Resiniferatoxin was only comparable in potency to capsaicin, however, in the assay for induction of acute pain, and the desensitization to acute pain appeared to require less resiniferatoxin than did desensitization for the other responses. We conclude that resiniferatoxin acts as an ultrapotent capsaicin analog and hypothesize that it may distinguish between subclasses of capsaicin response.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Capsaicin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Capsaicin / pharmacology
  • Diterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Hypothermia / chemically induced*
  • Inflammation / chemically induced*
  • Pain / chemically induced*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Diterpenes
  • resiniferatoxin
  • Capsaicin