Navigation Links
Columbia scientists identify key cells in touch sensation
Date:4/6/2014

NEW YORK, NY, April 6, 2014 In a study published in the April 6 online edition of the journal Nature, a team of Columbia University Medical Center researchers led by Ellen Lumpkin, PhD, associate professor of somatosensory biology, solve an age-old mystery of touch: how cells just beneath the skin surface enable us to feel fine details and textures.

Touch is the last frontier of sensory neuroscience. The cells and molecules that initiate visionrod and cone cells and light-sensitive receptorshave been known since the early 20th century, and the senses of smell, taste, and hearing are increasingly understood. But almost nothing is known about the cells and molecules responsible for initiating our sense of touch.

This study is the first to use optogeneticsa new method that uses light as a signaling system to turn neurons on and off on demandon skin cells to determine how they function and communicate.

The team showed that skin cells called Merkel cells can sense touch and that they work virtually hand in glove with the skin's neurons to create what we perceive as fine details and textures.

"These experiments are the first direct proof that Merkel cells can encode touch into neural signals that transmit information to the brain about the objects in the world around us," Dr. Lumpkin said.

The findings not only describe a key advance in our understanding of touch sensation, but may stimulate research into loss of sensitive-touch perception.

Several conditionsincluding diabetes and some cancer chemotherapy treatments, as well as normal agingare known to reduce sensitive touch. Merkel cells begin to disappear in one's early 20s, at the same time that tactile acuity starts to decline. "No one has tested whether the loss of Merkel cells causes loss of function with agingit could be a coincidencebut it's a question we're interested in pursuing," Dr. Lumpkin said.

In the future, these findings could inform the design of new "smart" prosthetics that restore touch sensation to limb amputees, as well as introduce new targets for treating skin diseases such as chronic itch.

The study was published in conjunction with a second study by the team done in collaboration with the Scripps Research Institute. The companion study identifies a touch-activated molecule in skin cells, a gene called Piezo2, whose discovery has the potential to significantly advance the field of touch perception.

"The new findings should open up the field of skin biology and reveal how sensations are initiated," Dr. Lumpkin said. Other types of skin cells may also play a role in sensations of touch, as well as less pleasurable skin sensations, such as itch. The same optogenetics techniques that Dr. Lumpkin's team applied to Merkel cells can now be applied to other skin cells to answer these questions.

"It's an exciting time in our field because there are still big questions to answer, and the tools of modern neuroscience give us a way to tackle them," she said.


'/>"/>
Contact: Karin Eskenazi
212-342-0508
Columbia University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Columbias 2013 Horwitz Prize awarded for discoveries that could lead to new Alzheimers treatments
2. Columbia honors Philipp Scherer for helping to define body fat as major endocrine organ
3. Dams provide resilience to Columbia River basin from climate change impacts
4. Columbia University Medical Center/NY-Presbyterian experts at AAN
5. EARTH: Famous fossils and spectacular scenery at British Columbias Burgess Shale
6. Columbia awards 2012 Naomi Berrie Award to Drs. Christophe Benoist & Diane Mathis
7. Columbia researchers report novel approach for single molecule electronic DNA sequencing
8. Columbia awarded 1 of first Provocative Questions grants from NCI
9. Winemaking goes high-tech at the University of British Columbia
10. Scientists reconstruct pre-Columbian human effects on the Amazon Basin
11. Forensic science used to determine whos who in pre-Columbian Peru
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:5/3/2016)... , May 3, 2016  Neurotechnology, a ... the MegaMatcher Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) ... large-scale multi-biometric projects. MegaMatcher ABIS can process multiple ... using any combination of fingerprint, face or iris ... MegaMatcher SDK and MegaMatcher Accelerator , ...
(Date:4/28/2016)... 2016 First quarter 2016:   ... with the first quarter of 2015 The gross margin ... (loss: 18.8) and the operating margin was 40% (-13) ... Cash flow from operations was SEK 249.9 M (21.2) , ... unchanged, SEK 7,000-8,500 M. The operating margin for 2016 ...
(Date:4/26/2016)... 27, 2016 Research and ... Biometrics Market 2016-2020"  report to their offering.  , ... The analysts forecast the global multimodal biometrics ... during the period 2016-2020.  Multimodal biometrics ... such as the healthcare, BFSI, transportation, automotive, and ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... June 27, 2016  Global demand for enzymes ... through 2020 to $7.2 billion.  This market includes ... cleaning products, biofuel production, animal feed, and other ... and biocatalysts). Food and beverages will remain the ... increasing consumption of products containing enzymes in developing ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... ... June 27, 2016 , ... ... findings on what they believe could be a new and helpful biomarker for ... research. Click here to read it now. , Biomarkers are components ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... , ... June 27, 2016 , ... ... for Amgen, will join the faculty of the University of North Carolina ... professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler, with a focus on the ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , June 24, 2016  Regular discussions on a ... take place between the two entities said Poloz. ... Ottawa , he pointed to the country,s ... the federal government. ... said, "Both institutions have common economic goals, why not sit ...
Breaking Biology Technology: