Journal Article

Capsaicinoids Cause Inflammation and Epithelial Cell Death through Activation of Vanilloid Receptors

Christopher A. Reilly, Jack L. Taylor, Diane L. Lanza, Brian A. Carr, Dennis J. Crouch and Garold S. Yost

in Toxicological Sciences

Volume 73, issue 1, pages 170-181
Published in print May 2003 | ISSN: 1096-6080
Published online May 2003 | e-ISSN: 1096-0929 | DOI:
Capsaicinoids Cause Inflammation and Epithelial Cell Death through Activation of Vanilloid Receptors

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Medical Toxicology
  • Toxicology (Non-medical)


Show Summary Details


Capsaicinoids, found in less-than-lethal self-defense weapons, have been associated with respiratory failure and death in exposed animals and people. The studies described herein provide evidence for acute respiratory inflammation and damage to epithelial cells in experimental animals, and provide precise molecular mechanisms that mediate these effects using human bronchiolar and alveolar epithelial cells. Inhalation exposure of rats to pepper sprays (capsaicinoids) produced acute inflammation and damage to nasal, tracheal, bronchiolar, and alveolar cells in a dose-related manner. In vitro cytotoxicity assays demonstrated that cultured human lung cells (BEAS-2B and A549) were more susceptible to necrotic cell death than liver (HepG2) cells. Transcription of the human vanilloid receptor type-1, VR1 or TRPV1, was demonstrated by RT-PCR in all of these cells, and the relative transcript levels were correlated to cellular susceptibility. TRPV1 receptor activation was presumably responsible for cellular cytotoxicity, but prototypical functional antagonists of this receptor were cytotoxic themselves, and did not ameliorate capsaicinoid-induced damage. Conversely, the TRPV1 antagonist capsazepine, as well as calcium chelation by EGTA ablated cytokine (IL-6) production after capsaicin exposure. To address these seemingly contradictory results, recombinant human TRPV1 was cloned and overexpressed in BEAS-2B cells. These cells exhibited dramatically increased cellular susceptibility to capsaicinoids, measured using IL-6 production and cytotoxicity, and an apoptotic mechanism of cell death. Surprisingly, the cytotoxic effects of capsaicin in TRPV1 overexpressing cells were also not inhibited by TRPV1 antagonists or by treatments that modified extracellular calcium. Thus, capsaicin interacted with TRPV1 expressed by BEAS-2B and other airway epithelial cells to cause the calcium-dependent production of cytokines and, conversely, calcium-independent cell death. These results have demonstrated that capsaicinoids contained in pepper spray products produce airway inflammation and cause respiratory epithelial cell death. The mechanisms of these cellular responses to capsaicinoids appear to proceed via distinct cellular pathways, but both pathways are initiated by TRPV1.

Keywords: capsaicinoids; vanilloid receptors; TRPV1; cytokines; pepper sprays; inflammation; bronchiolar epithelial cells; BEAS-2B cells

Journal Article.  9483 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Toxicology ; Toxicology (Non-medical)

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.