Posterior capsule opacification (PCO), the most common complication of cataract surgery occurring in 20–50% of patients after 2–5 years of cataract surgery, is a major problem in the aging society. The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of lens epithelial cells after cataract surgery has been proposed as a major cause of PCO. Capsaicin, widely used as a food additive and analgesic agent, is a major pungent ingredient in red pepper. Although the effect of capsaicin on EMT has been reported in cancer cells, the biological reaction of capsaicin was unique in each cell type, and there have been no reports describing its effects on EMT earlier. In this study, we demonstrated that treatment with capsaicin inhibited TGFβ2-induced EMT in vitro lens epithelial cells and ex vivo explant lens epithelial cells. Furthermore, eye drops of capsaicin inhibited the PCO model mice in vivo. Finally, we showed that capsaicin inhibited non-canonically induced Smad2/3 activation via suppression of EGFR activation and ERK phosphorylation. Our findings indicate that capsaicin and its derivatives are good candidate compounds for preventing PCO after cataract surgery.
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