Date of Award

Summer 1998

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biomedical Sciences

Committee Director

R. James Swanson

Committee Member

Lloyd Wolfinbarger

Committee Member

Mark S. Elliot

Committee Member

Susan E. Lanzendorf


Capsaicin is the pungent agent found in hot peppers of the Capsicum genus. It is a potent neurotoxin that stimulates the degranulation and degeneration of C-afferent neurons. Capsaicin is widely used as a food condiment and medicine. Human exposure of capsaicin can exceed levels shown to be neurotoxic in laboratory animals. Additionally, capsaicin can cross the blood/placenta barrier and affect an embryo in utero. In order to assay the potential for toxicity to human embryos, mouse embryos were exposed to capsaicin and the effect of the capsaicin on embryo development was measured. Embryos were co-cultured in Krebs medium with 1% ethanol and from 1 to 3mM capsaicin. The higher levels of capsaicin significantly inhibited embryo development. Post implantation fetuses were treated in the dam with 0.3, 0.6, 1.5, and 3 μmoles capsaicin, and tested for developmental defeds. No significant differences were found between the capsaicin treated fetuses and the control fetuses. Female mice were exposed to 3mM capsaicin subcutaneously, by mouth, and topically. Levels of capsaicin in their blood serum were measured by high-pressure liquid chromatography. No significant levels of capsaicin were detected. It was concluded that any deleterious effect of capsaicin on embryo or fetal development depends on very high dosages and that these levels are unlikely to be encountered in the blood. Also, capsaicin had no deleterious effect on cartilage, bone, or limb development in mice.


A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of Old Dominion University and Eastern Virginia Medical School in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences.