Capsaicin is the pungent ingredient of chili peppers and is approved as a topical treatment of neuropathic pain. The analgesia lasts for several months after a single treatment. Capsaicin selectively activates TRPV1, a Ca2+-permeable cationic ion channel that is enriched in the terminals of certain nociceptors. Activation is followed by a prolonged decreased response to noxious stimuli. Interest also exists in the use of injectable capsaicin as a treatment for focal pain conditions, such as arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Recently injection of capsaicin showed therapeutic efficacy in patients with Morton's neuroma, a painful foot condition associated with compression of one of the digital nerves. The relief of pain was associated with no change in tactile sensibility. Though injection evokes short term pain, the brief systemic exposure and potential to establish long term analgesia without other sensory changes creates an attractive clinical profile. Short-term and long-term effects arise from both functional and structural changes in nociceptive terminals. In this review, we discuss how local administration of capsaicin may induce ablation of nociceptive terminals and the clinical implications.
Keywords: TRPV1 receptors; capsaicin; nociceptors; pain.