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Scientists identify protein channel that mediates body's ability to feel frigid temperatures

eceptors act like "molecular thermometers" by opening and closing according to the temperature. At a particular temperature, the receptors open. This allows an influx of calcium ions into the axon, and this electrical signal is relayed through the neuron to the brain.

The existence of specialized hot- and cold-neurons had been known for years, but the molecules that actually sense the temperatures and signal back to the neuron through the axon were a complete mystery. That changed in 1997 when a group cloned the first sensory molecule, a type of transient receptor potential (TRP) channel called TRPV1. TRPV1 opens when it senses hot temperatures--above 42 C (108 F). That discovery opened the floodgates for identifying temperature-detecting proteins. Within a few years, several laboratories had identified additional temperature-detecting proteins.

Last year, Patapoutian and his TSRI and GNF colleagues identified and cloned a protein called TRPM8, which is the first-known signaling molecule that helps the body sense cool temperatures. The channel becomes activated below 25 C (77 F). Similarly, the group also identified a type of TRP channel called "TRPV3" that makes skin cells able to sense warm temperatures. It is activated around 33 C (92 F).

How Low Can You Go?

In their current study, Patapoutian and Story demonstrate that the channel ANKTM1 is inactive at room temperature and higher, and only becomes active at "noxious" cold temperatures. Below 15 C (59 F), the channel opens and allows an influx of positively charged ions into the axon, an electrical signal which is then communicated to the brain.

Biochemically, ANKTM1 is a bit of a puzzle because proteins are normally more active at higher temperatures. Even more bizarre is the fact that these cold-sensing ANKTM1 proteins are coexpressed with their cousins, the hot-sensing TRPV1 proteins on the same neurons. This means that the same neuron may be responsible for dete
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Contact: Jason Bardi
jasonb@scripps.edu
858-784-9254
Scripps Research Institute
2-Apr-2003


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