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Sense of touch/nerve research

the protein. The mice could still perceive touch, indicating that this protein was not necessary for all forms of touch perception. In collaboration with Gary R. Lewin, Ph.D., independent group leader at MDC in Berlin and another author of this study, individual nerve fibers were examined. Strikingly, mice missing the protein showed a very specific and selective deficit in one type of touch perception; rapidly adapting mechanoreceptors were much less sensitive. These fibers sense very light touch.

"The BNC1 protein is an ion channel located at the tips of nerves surrounding hair follicles. When the hair moves, the channels open and the flow of ions causes an electrical signal to be sent through the long nerve fiber to the spinal cord and from there on to the brain," Price explained.

As a result, the brain gets the message that the hair has moved. The UI researchers believe that BNC1 may be a major component of this type of touch receptor complex.

So far the UI researchers have shown that this protein is involved in gentle touch perception but Price is excited about future studies. Given the protein's appearance in many places in the body, Price expects the team will discover that BNC1 and related proteins play many roles in sensory perception.

"These proteins clearly work as parts of large multi-protein complexes. The thought is that different combinations of these proteins probably have different functions in sensory detection," Price said. "We are interested in these proteins because they are likely to be involved in many different processes such as touch sensation, pain perception and taste, to mention a few."

Scientists have so far identified nine mammalian genes in the protein family. In fruit flies and C. elegans, two organisms whose genomes have been fully sequenced, many more of these ion channel genes have been identified.

Now that the UI team has identified one protein component of a touch receptor, they will be ab
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Contact: Jennifer Brown
brownj@mail.medicine.uiowa.edu
319-335-9917
University of Iowa
24-Oct-2000


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