The role of calcium in the desensitization of capsaicin responses in rat dorsal root ganglion neurons

Patricia A. Koplas, Robert L. Rosenberg, Gerry S. Oxford

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244 Scopus citations


Capsaicin (Cap) is a pungent extract of the Capsicum pepper family, which activates nociceptive primary sensory neurons. Inward current and membrane potential responses of cultured neonatal rat dorsal root ganglion neurons to capsaicin were examined using whole-cell and perforated patch recording methods. The responses exhibited strong desensitization operationally classified as acute (diminished response during constant Cap exposure) and tachyphylaxis (diminished response to successive applications of Cap). Both acute desensitization and tachyphylaxis were greatly diminished by reductions in external Ca2+ concentration. Furthermore, chelation of intracellular Ca2+ by addition of either EGTA or bis(2-aminophenoxy)ethane- N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid to the patch pipette attenuated both forms of desensitization even in normal Ca2+. Release of intracellular Ca2+ by caffeine triggered acute desensitization in the absence of extracellular Ca2+, and barium was found to effectively substitute for calcium in supporting desensitization. Cap activated inward current at an ED50 of 728 nM, exhibiting cooperativity (Hill coefficient, 2.2); however, both forms of desensitization were only weakly dependent on [Cap], suggesting a dissociation between activation of Cap-sensitive channels and desensitization. Removal of ATP and GTP from the intracellular solutions resulted in nearly complete tachyphylaxis even with intracellular Ca2+ buffered to low levels, whereas changes in nucleotide levels did not significantly alter the acute form of desensitization. These data suggest a key role for intracellular Ca2+ in desensitization of Cap responses, perhaps through Ca2+-dependent dephosphorylation at a locus that normally sustains Cap responsiveness via ATP-dependent phosphorylation. It also seems that the signaling mechanisms underlying the two forms of desensitization are not identical in detail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3525-3537
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1997


  • calcium
  • capsaicin
  • desensitization
  • dorsal root ganglion
  • nociceptors
  • patch clamp
  • sensory neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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