Capsaicin regulates voltage-dependent sodium channels by altering lipid bilayer elasticity

by Lundbaek, Jens A.; Birn, Pia; Tape, Sonya E.; Toombes, G. E. S.; Søgaard, Rikke; Koeppe II, R. Erdman; Gruner, S. M.; Hansen, Anker J.; Andersen, Olaf S.

At submicromolar concentrations, capsaicin specifically activates the TRPV1 receptor involved in nociception. At micro- to millimolar concentrations, commonly used in clinical and in vitro studies, capsaicin also modulates the function of a large number of seemingly unrelated membrane proteins, many of which are similarly modulated by the capsaicin antagonist capsazepine. The mechanism(s) underlying this widespread regulation of protein function are not understood. We investigated whether capsaicin could regulate membrane protein function by changing the elasticity of the host lipid bilayer. This was done by studying capsaicin's effects on lipid bilayer stiffness, measured using gramicidin A (gA) channels as molecular force-transducers, and on voltage-dependent sodium channels (VDSC) known to be regulated by bilayer elasticity. Capsaicin and capsazepine (10-100 mu M) increase gA channel appearance rate and lifetime without measurably altering bilayer thickness or channel conductance, meaning that the changes in bilayer elasticity are sufficient to alter the conformation of an embedded protein. Capsaicin and capsazepine promote VDSC inactivation, similar to other amphiphiles that decrease bilayer stiffness, producing use-dependent current inhibition. For capsaicin, the quantitative relation between the decrease in bilayer stiffness and the hyperpolarizing shift in inactivation conforms to that previously found for other amphiphiles. Capsaicin's effects on gA channels and VDSC are similar to those of Triton X-100, although these amphiphiles promote opposite lipid monolayer curvature. We conclude that capsaicin can regulate VDSC function by altering bilayer elasticity. This mechanism may underlie the promiscuous regulation of membrane protein function by capsaicin and capsazepine-and by amphiphilic drugs generally.

Molecular Pharmacology
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1521-0111; 0026-895X