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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A single TRPV1 amino acid controls species sensitivity to capsaicin.


Chili peppers produce capsaicin (a vanilloid) that activates the transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TRPV1) on sensory neurons to alter their membrane potential and induce pain. To identify residues responsible for differential TRPV1 capsaicin sensitivity among species, we used intracellular Ca2+ imaging to characterize chimeras composed of capsaicin-sensitive rat TRPV1 (rTRPV1) and capsaicin-insensitive chicken TRPV1 (cTRPV1) exposed to a series of capsaicinoids. We found that chimeras containing rat E570-V686 swapped into chicken receptors displayed capsaicin sensitivity, and that simply changing the alanine at position 578 in the S4-S5 helix of the chicken receptor to a glutamic acid was sufficient to endow it with capsaicin sensitivity in the micromolar range. Moreover, introduction of lysine, glutamine or proline at residue A578 also elicited capsaicin sensitivity in cTRPV1. Similarly, replacing corresponding rTRPV1 residue E570 with lysine or glutamine retained capsaicin sensitivity. The hydrophilic capsaicin analog Cap-EA activated a cTRPV1-A578E mutant, suggesting that A578 may participate in vanilloid binding. The hydrophilic vanilloid agonist zingerone did not activate any A578 mutants with capsaicin sensitivity, suggesting that the vanilloid group alone is not sufficient for receptor activation. Our study demonstrates that a subtle modification of TRPV1 in different species globally alters capsaicin responses.

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