What's the Latest Development?
Neuroscientists have successfully switched off neurons in the brains of mice that affect how the animals feel cool temperatures. The neurons looked at by a team of USC scientists express the protein TRPM8, which is a sensor of cold temperatures in the skin. "The researchers found that mice depleted of TRPM8 neurons could not feel cold, but still responded to heat. Control mice tended to stick to an area around 30 degrees Celsius and avoided both colder and hotter areas. But mice without TRPM8 neurons avoided only hotter plates and not cold—even when the cold should have been painful or was potentially dangerous."
What's the Big Idea?
By better understanding the specific ways in which we feel sensations, scientists hope to one day develop better pain treatments without knocking out all ability to feel for suffering patients. "The problem with pain drugs now is that they typically just reduce inflammation, which is just one potential cause of pain, or they knock out all sensation, which often is not desirable," said David McKemy, associate professor of neurobiology at USC. "One of our goals is to pave the way for medications that address the pain directly, in a way that does not leave patients completely numb."
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