Capsaicin (vanilloid) sensitivity has long served as the functional signature of a subset of nociceptive sensory neurons. Mutagenesis studies have revealed seemingly distinct regions involved in mediating ligand binding and channel activation at the capsaicin binding site. Residue 547 (transmembrane region 4) mediates significant species differences in resiniferatoxin (RTX) sensitivity, and the Ser(512) residue is critical in discriminating between pH and capsaicin gating. In the present study, the pharmacological profiles of a variety of ligands were studied to investigate cross-talk between these two regions. Exchange of residue 547 between species mediated a difference in capsaicin and RTX-dependent gating. Likewise, the potency of iodoresiniferatoxin (I-RTX) and a novel transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 antagonist were also altered. Experiments using the S512Y mutant channel have confirmed the importance of residue 512 for functional interaction of capsaicin and our novel antagonist. In this study, we were surprised to find that the mutation S512Y converted the activity of the antagonist I-RTX into an intrinsic agonist, albeit with a lower potency than its parent compound, RTX. Recent studies have proposed a novel model for the receptor, based on the X-ray crystal structure of the voltage-dependent potassium channel, in which both the 512 and 547 amino acid residues are in close proximity. Our data support the model whereby intracellular ligand interaction occurs within an S3-S4 "sensor" domain, enabling binding of ligands to be transduced to functional gating of the channel. The binding pocket also seems to be exquisitely sensitive to residue-specific interaction with ligands, because subtle changes in either ligand or channel structure can have profound effects on channel activity.