LA JOLLA, CA April 22, 2010 Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) have shed new light on the molecular mechanism that enables us to sense temperature, such as the heat from a sizzling stove. In addition to contributing to our knowledge of basic biology, the findings could one day lead to new therapies for conditions such as acute or chronic inflammatory pain.
The study, which was led by Scripps Research and GNF Professor Ardem Patapoutian, was published in an advance, online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience on April 22, 2010.
To better understand temperature sensation, the team focused on a protein called TRPV1, which is a member of a small family of proteins known to enable temperature sensation, and is involved in inflammation and the communication of pain to the brain. After producing thousands of mutants of this protein, the scientists were able to identify a region of the protein that enabled temperature sensitivity and to detail some of the molecular mechanisms at work in the molecule.
"Ever since the discovery of these proteins, it has been an outstanding question how they can be activated by temperatures," said Research Associate Jrg Grandl, a member of the Patapoutian lab and first author of the paper. "The new study addresses this question."
"Because our ability to sense temperature is closely linked to our ability to sense pain, some of these ion channels are considered targets to treat chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain indications," said Patapoutian. "Understanding these proteins could be crucial in designing future drugs that can either activate or block them."
Hot and Cold
Humans and other vertebrate animals use specialized sensory neurons to detect temperature, pressure, and other physical stimuli on the skin. These neurons are located in the spinal column and are connected to the ski
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Scripps Research Institute