Researchers Identify Molecule That May Be Key In Pheromone Processing

P> The MGH/Harvard team has identified a molecule called TRP2 as a candidate for the ion channel involved in pheromone signalling in rats. Ion channels are tiny passageways into the cell that open in response to the activation of a receptor. When they open, ion channels admit charged particles into the cells, altering the cells' electrochemical makeup. In nerve cells like those in the VNO and MOE, opening of an ion channel is key to transforming a chemical signal into a nerve impulse. In their analysis of VNO and MOE tissues from rats, the researchers found that TRP2 is present only in the VNO and only in the area where pheromones are known to be detected.

"Remarkably," says Liman, "TRP2 is not similar to the ion channel mammals use to detect odorants. Instead it is similar to one that fruit flies use to detect light. Therefore the sensory modality - whether chemicals or light waves are to be detected - doesn't seem to matter in the evolution of sensory receptor neurons and their signalling pathways."

In addition, the authors note, the human form of the gene coding for TRP2 has been mutated and now produces a protein that is nonfunctional. This supports evidence based on anatomy suggesting that the VNO does not serve a purpose in humans and that research into how humans detect and process pheromone signals probably should concentrate on the cells of the MOE.

The research was supported by grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


Contact: Susan McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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