Ever wondered what exactly makes a chili pepper hot? The answer is a natural chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin, the main ingredient in a chili pepper, binds to receptors on cells inside the mouth to cause that burning sensation.
It's thanks to the chili pepper that scientists at the University of Texas (UT) at San Antonio have discovered a method that could cure pain from the source, giving hope to chronic pain sufferers everywhere.
Their findings were published in the April 26 Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Scientists at UT found that a capsaicin-like element is also found at the point of pain in the body and by blocking its production can stop the pain. The capsaicin-like molecules activate a pain receptor called transient potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) which the body naturally releases in response to injury. Similarly, eating a chili pepper turns on the TRPV1 pain neurons.
In lab tests using mice, the scientists found that by eliminating the gene for these receptors the mice had no sensitivity to the capsaicin-like substance.
They found that in response to pain, the body generates its own version of capsaicin, a combination of common fatty acids called oxidized linoleic acid metabolites (OLAMs.)
“This is a major breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of pain and how to most effectively treat it,” said Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves, lead scientist, professor and chair of the Department of Endontics Dental School a the UT Health Science Center. “These data demonstrates, for the first time that OLAMs constitute a new family of naturally occurring capsaicin-like agents, and may explain the role of these substances in many pain conditions. This hypothesis suggests that agents blocking either the production or action of these substances could lead to new therapies and pharmaceutical interventions for various inflammatory diseases and pain disorders."
The scientists have devised two different types of drugs that either block the OLAMs, or antibodies that make them dormant. Eventually they hope that these can be administered either topically, via a pill, liquid or injection.