Activation of primary afferent C-fibers by repeated intrathecal injection of kainic acid (KA) in mice is inhibited after pretreatment with capsaicin. The increased behavioral response to multiple injections of KA is thought to be brought about by an action of the NH2-terminus of substance P (SP). In light of our recent observation that the antinociceptive effect of capsaicin may also involve an action of the NH2-terminus of SP, we tested the hypothesis that capsaicin inhibits behavioral sensitization to KA by a desensitization to the action of the NH2-terminus of SP. Using adult mice, pretreatment (24 hr) with either capsaicin (0.8 micrograms) or SP(1-7) (1 and 10 nmol) attenuated sensitization of the behavioral response to four injections of 25 pmol of KA at 2-min intervals. Pretreatment with 10 nmol of the COOH-terminal SP fragment, SP(5-11), had no effect. [D-Pro2,D-Phe7]-SP(1-7), a SP NH2-terminal antagonist, injected 5 min before capsaicin or SP(1-7), inhibited the effects of both capsaicin and SP(1-7) on KA sensitization whereas the COOH-terminal neurokinin antagonist, [D-Pro2,D-Trp7,9]-SP, did not. The similarities in behavioral responses after treatment with SP(1-7) or capsaicin, together with the sensitivity of these effects to D-SP(1-7), suggest that SP released in response to capsaicin may inhibit subsequent KA-induced activity 24 hr later. This action of SP appears to be brought about by its NH2-terminus and/or an accumulation of its NH2-terminal metabolites after capsaicin treatment.