Sensitive Spice.

Like it hot? Sure you do. Nature reveals how hot peppers can make anaesthetics work more potently – and more selectively – by “opening the doors” of pain-sensing neurons:

Bruce Bean of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues targeted the pain by taking advantage of an ion channel called TRPV1, which is only present in pain-sensing nerve cells. This channel opens when it senses capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilli peppers.

Working on cultures of neurons, the researchers used capsaicin to open the ion channel, allowing their painkiller of choice — a local anaesthetic called QX-314 — to enter the cell. QX-314 is similar to the commonly-used local anaesthetic lidocaine, but, unlike lidocaine, it has no effect unless it is acting from within a cell. The team found that capsaicin did indeed allow the anaesthetic to only enter pain-sensing neurons, where it could then dampen the action of these cells.

They say the finding could revolutionize dentistry and childbirth, where it pays to be able to feel what’s going on… as long as it doesn’t hurt.