Capsaicin, the pungent substance in hot peppers, evokes a sensation of burning pain by stimulating the vanilloid receptor 1 (VR1) on primary afferent neurons. Immunohistochemistry revealed that the taste papillae in the tongue and palate are richly innervated by VR1-immunoreactive nerve fibers. Furthermore, VR1 protein expression was seen in the epithelium facing the oral cavity, although taste cells seemed to be devoid of VR1. The most conspicuous VR1 expression was observed in the epithelial cells of the palatal rugae, although there were no VR1-immunoreactive nerves there. The finding that VR1 is expressed not only in primary afferents but also in oral epithelial cells suggests that it is of great importance in the perception of capsaicin, heat, and acid in the mouth. Since VR1 is known to play a key role in nociception and inflammatory pain, it may be a new target for the treatment of oral pain.
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