In this study we seek to elucidate the interaction of capsaicin with the calmodulin mediated signal pathways in macrophages, by comparing its action on macrophage functions with a known calmodulin antagonist, fluphenazine. Kinetics of capsaicin uptake by macrophages (10(3) cells) revealed that a maximum of 200 microM capsaicin was taken up within 10 min. Ca2+ ionophore triggered generation of superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide by macrophages was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner by fluphenazine (IC50, 20 microM and 12 microM, respectively) and also by capsaicin (IC50, 30 microM and 9 microM, respectively), suggesting an involvement of calmodulin in the regulation of NADPH oxidase. In vitro both fluphenazine and capsaicin inhibited Ca2(+)-Mg2+ ATPase and cAMP-phosphodiesterase from macrophages and this inhibition was reversed by exogenous addition of calmodulin. Fluorescence studies revealed a direct Ca2+ dependent interaction of capsaicin with calmodulin. From these results we suggest that capsaicin acts via calmodulin to inhibit stimulus-induced macrophage oxidative burst and also that calmodulin regulates the oxidative burst in macrophages.