Actions of capsaicin were examined on synaptic transmissions in the substantia gelatinosa (SG) of adult rat spinal cord slices using the whole-cell patch-recording technique. Bath-applied capsaicin at a concentration of 2 microM activated a slow inward current (having an amplitude of 33 pA at -70 mV), which was accompanied by an increase in the frequency of glutamatergic spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs; by 234%); these actions were blocked by a capsaicin-receptor antagonist, capsazepine (10 microM). The capsaicin-induced increase in sEPSC frequency was resistant to tetrodotoxin (0.5-1 microM). On the other hand, capsaicin (2 microM) did not affect either glycine- or gamma-aminobutyric acid-mediated spontaneous synaptic transmission. The results indicate that capsaicin enhances excitatory but not inhibitory synaptic transmission, possibly through a direct action on primary afferent terminals in the SG. As the SG has been thought to participate in nociceptive pathway, it is suggested that such a presynaptic action of capsaicin contributes to nociceptive transmissions.