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Detection and modulation of capsaicin perception in the human oral cavity

Smutzer, Gregory, Jacob, Jeswin C., Tran, Joseph T., Shah, Darshan I., Gambhir, Shilpa, Devassy, Roni K., Tran, Eric B., Hoang, Brian T., McCune, Joseph F.
Physiology & behavior 2018 v.194 pp. 120-131
air flow, burning, capsaicin, emulsions, humans, neurons, nose, solubility, sucralose, sucrose, taste, tongue, vanillin
Capsaicin causes a burning or spicy sensation when this vanilloid compound comes in contact with trigeminal neurons of the tongue. This compound has low solubility in water, which presents difficulties in examining the psychophysical properties of capsaicin by standard aqueous chemosensory tests. This report describes a new approach that utilizes edible strips for delivering precise amounts of capsaicin to the human oral cavity for examining threshold and suprathreshold amounts of this irritant. When incorporated into pullulan-based edible strips, recognition thresholds for capsaicin occurred over a narrow range, with a mean value near 1 nmol. When incorporated into edible strips at suprathreshold amounts, capsaicin yielded robust intensity values that were readily measured in our subject population. Maximal capsaicin intensity was observed 20 s after strips dissolved on the tongue surface, and then decreased in intensity. Suprathreshold studies showed that complete blockage of nasal airflow diminished capsaicin perception in the oral cavity. Oral rinses with vanillin-linoleic acid emulsions decreased mean intensity values for capsaicin by approximately 75%, but only modestly affected recognition threshold values. Also, oral rinses with isointense amounts of aqueous sucrose and sucralose solutions decreased mean intensity values for capsaicin by approximately 50%. In addition, this decrease in capsaicin intensity following an oral rinse with sucrose was partially reversed by the sweet taste inhibitor lactisole. These results suggest that blockage of nasal airflow, vanillin, sucrose, and sucralose modulate capsaicin perception in the human oral cavity. The results further suggest a chemosensory link between receptor cells that detect sweet taste stimuli and trigeminal neurons that detect capsaicin.