Indirect evidence suggests that hot spices may interact with epithelial cells of the gastrointestinal tract to modulate their transport properties. Using HCT-8 cells, a cell line from a human ileocoecal carcinoma, we studied the effects of spices on transepithelial electrical resistance (TER), permeability for fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-labeled dextrans with graded molecular weight, and morphological alterations of tight junctions by immunofluorescence using an anti-ZO-1 antibody, a marker for tight junction integrity. Two different reactivity patterns were observed: paprika and cayenne pepper significantly decreased the TER and increased permeability for 10-, 20- and 40-kDa dextrans but not for -70 kDa dextrans. Simultaneously, tight junctions exhibited a discontinuous pattern. Applying extracts from black or green pepper, bay leaf or nutmeg increased the TER and macromolecular permeability remained low. Immunofluorescence ZO-1 staining was preserved. In accordance with the above findings, capsaicin transiently reduced resistance and piperine increased resistance, making them candidates for causing the effects seen with crude spice extracts. The observation that Solanaceae spices (paprika, cayenne pepper) increase permeability for ions and macromolecules might be of pathophysiological importance, particularly with respect to food allergy and intolerance.