Capsaicin, a noxious stimulant and main component of the hot flavor of red peppers, has an analgesic effect when administered to humans. We investigated the expression of proopioimelanocortin (POMC) mRNA in the arcuate nucleus of Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats after administering capsaicin, hypothesizing that administering capsaicin activates the central opioid system.
SD rats were divided randomly into two groups; one group received a saline injection and the other received a capsaicin injection. The POMC mRNA level in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus was measured by the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction at 0, 20, 40, 60, and 120 minutes after capsaicin administration.
Capsaicin administration resulted in a significantly increased POMC mRNA level, compared to that in saline-treated rats at the 20-minute time point (t=-4.445, p=0.001). However, no significant group differences were observed at other times (t=-1.886, p=0.089; t= -0.973, p=0.353; t=-2.193, p=0.053 for 40, 60, and 120 minutes, respectively).
The analgesic effect of capsaicin might be associated with increased activity of the cerebral opioid system. This finding suggests that capsaicin acted for nociception and analgesia and could affect alcohol-intake behavior, which might further imply that a food culture could affect drinking behavior.