The role of afferent pulmonary innervation in ARDS associated with COVID-19 and potential use of resiniferatoxin to improve prognosis: A review

Med Drug Discov. 2020 Mar;5:100033. doi: 10.1016/j.medidd.2020.100033. Epub 2020 Apr 4.


Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is one of the major causes of mortality associated with COVID-19 disease. Many patients will require intensive care with ventilatory support. Despite progress and best efforts, the mortality rates projected remain high. Historical data outlook points towards 80% expected fatality for patients progressing to advanced pulmonary disease, even when hospitalized in the intensive care unit. This is particularly true among the patient population over 65. Novel life-saving strategies are desperately needed to mitigate the high mortality that will be associated with the late stage SARS-CoV-2 viral infection associated with the fatal respiratory distress. We hypothesize that the morbidity, severity of the disease, and underlying physiological events leading to mortality are closely linked to the TRPV1 expressing neuronal system (afferent/efferent neurons) in the lungs. TRPV1 expressing cells are responsible for pain transmission, inflammation and immunomodulation throughout the entire pulmonary system and are modulating the processes associated with localized cytokine release (storm) and overall rapid disease progression. We suggest that therapeutic approaches targeting TRPV1 containing nerve fibers in the lungs will modulate the inflammatory and immune signal activity, leading to reduced mortality and better overall outcomes. We also propose to further explore the use of resiniferatoxin (RTX), an ultra-potent TRPV1 agonist currently in clinical trials for cancer and osteoarthritis pain, as a possible ablating agent of TRPV1 positive pulmonary pathways in patients with advanced COVID-19 disease.

Keywords: ARDS; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; TRPV1; cytokine; inflammation; lung; resiniferatoxin.

Publication types

  • Review