Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Columbia scientists identify key cells in touch sensation

07.04.2014

Skin cells use new molecule to send touch information to the brain

In a study published in the April 6 online edition of the journal Nature, a team of Columbia University Medical Center researchers led by Ellen Lumpkin, PhD, associate professor of somatosensory biology, solve an age-old mystery of touch: how cells just beneath the skin surface enable us to feel fine details and textures.


This video shows a Merkel cell responding to touch.

Credit: Lab of Ellen Lumpkin, Ph.D./ Columbia University Medical Center

Touch is the last frontier of sensory neuroscience. The cells and molecules that initiate vision—rod and cone cells and light-sensitive receptors—have been known since the early 20th century, and the senses of smell, taste, and hearing are increasingly understood. But almost nothing is known about the cells and molecules responsible for initiating our sense of touch.

This study is the first to use optogenetics—a new method that uses light as a signaling system to turn neurons on and off on demand—on skin cells to determine how they function and communicate.

... more about:
»Medicine »neurons »sense »skin

The team showed that skin cells called Merkel cells can sense touch and that they work virtually hand in glove with the skin's neurons to create what we perceive as fine details and textures.

"These experiments are the first direct proof that Merkel cells can encode touch into neural signals that transmit information to the brain about the objects in the world around us," Dr. Lumpkin said.

The findings not only describe a key advance in our understanding of touch sensation, but may stimulate research into loss of sensitive-touch perception.

Several conditions—including diabetes and some cancer chemotherapy treatments, as well as normal aging—are known to reduce sensitive touch. Merkel cells begin to disappear in one's early 20s, at the same time that tactile acuity starts to decline. "No one has tested whether the loss of Merkel cells causes loss of function with aging—it could be a coincidence—but it's a question we're interested in pursuing," Dr. Lumpkin said.

In the future, these findings could inform the design of new "smart" prosthetics that restore touch sensation to limb amputees, as well as introduce new targets for treating skin diseases such as chronic itch.

The study was published in conjunction with a second study by the team done in collaboration with the Scripps Research Institute. The companion study identifies a touch-activated molecule in skin cells, a gene called Piezo2, whose discovery has the potential to significantly advance the field of touch perception.

"The new findings should open up the field of skin biology and reveal how sensations are initiated," Dr. Lumpkin said. Other types of skin cells may also play a role in sensations of touch, as well as less pleasurable skin sensations, such as itch. The same optogenetics techniques that Dr. Lumpkin's team applied to Merkel cells can now be applied to other skin cells to answer these questions.

"It's an exciting time in our field because there are still big questions to answer, and the tools of modern neuroscience give us a way to tackle them," she said.

###

See movie of Merkel cell responding to touch: http://youtu.be/tU1jeOpjsTE

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

The research was supported by NIH (R01AR051219, R21AR062307, R01DE022358, T32HL087745, F32NS080544, P30AR044535, P30CA013696, and P30CA125123), a Research Fellowship for Young Scientists from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (24-7585), and the McNair Foundation.

The other authors of the paper are: Srdjan Maksimovic (Columbia), Masashi Nakatani (Columbia and Keio University, Japan), Yoshichika Baba (Columbia), Aislyn Nelson (Columbia and Baylor College of Medicine), Kara Marshall (Columbia), Scott Wellnitz (Baylor), Pervez Firozi (Baylor), Seung-Hyun Woo (Scripps Research Institute), Sanjeev Ranade (Scripps), and Ardem Patapoutian (Scripps).

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education; and patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast. For more information, visit cumc.columbia.edu or columbiadoctors.org.

Karin Eskenazi | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Medicine neurons sense skin

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>