Capsaicin-sensitive nerves mediate esophageal mucosal protection

B. L. Bass, K. S. Trad, J. W. Harmon, F. Z. Hakki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The esophageal mucosa is exposed to damaging agents both by ingestion and reflux. Using our in vivo rabbit model of esophagitis, we have observed that acute luminal exposure (within 1 to 5 minutes) to potentially harmful agents, such as acid, bile, or ethanol, induces a rapid increase in mucosal blood flow; whereas prolonged exposure (10 to 60 minutes) results in mucosal injury and ablation of blood flow. We have also shown that capsaicin-sensitive mucosal afferent nerves can modulate esophageal blood flow. These findings led us to hypothesize that the reactive increase in blood flow induced by luminal agents represents a mechanism of protection mediated by capsaicin- sensitive nerves. The objective of these experiments was to determine if luminal capsaicin, a specific probe for visceral afferent nerves, could both preserve mucosal blood flow and protect against ethanol injury. Rabbits were subjected to luminal instillation of 50% ethanol with or without 1% capsaicin. Blood flow was measured with microspheres at baseline and after 2 and 10 minutes. Rabbits exposed only to ethanol developed severe mucosal injury coincident with near ablation of mucosal blood flow. In contrast, rabbits exposed to ethanol with capsaicin showed protection of the epithelium with a sixfold increase in mucosal blood flow. We conclude that capsaicin- sensitive nerves in the esophagus are local effectors of mucosal protection by virtue of preserving blood flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-426
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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