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 Risk-taking propensity changes, especially in young adulthood and in older age
29.01.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht Designing a pop-up future
27.01.2016 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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: Automated driving: Steering without limits

OmniSteer project to increase automobiles’ urban maneuverability begins with a € 3.4 million budget

Automobiles increase the mobility of their users. However, their maneuverability is pushed to the limit by cramped inner city conditions. Those who need to...

Im Focus: Microscopy: Nine at one blow

Advance in biomedical imaging: The University of Würzburg's Biocenter has enhanced fluorescence microscopy to label and visualise up to nine different cell structures simultaneously.

Fluorescence microscopy allows researchers to visualise biomolecules in cells. They label the molecules using fluorescent probes, excite them with light and...

Im Focus: NASA's ICESat-2 equipped with unique 3-D manufactured part

NASA's follow-on to the successful ICESat mission will employ a never-before-flown technique for determining the topography of ice sheets and the thickness of sea ice, but that won't be the only first for this mission.

Slated for launch in 2018, NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) also will carry a 3-D printed part made of polyetherketoneketone (PEKK),...

Im Focus: Sinking islands: Does the rise of sea level endanger the Takuu Atoll in the Pacific?

In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister picture is being painted evoking the demise of the island states and their cultures. Are the effects of sea-level rise already noticeable on reef islands? Scientists from the ZMT have now answered this question for the Takuu Atoll, a group of Pacific islands, located northeast of Papua New Guinea.

In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister...

Im Focus: Energy-saving minicomputers for the ‘Internet of Things’

The ‘Internet of Things’ is growing rapidly. Mobile phones, washing machines and the milk bottle in the fridge: the idea is that minicomputers connected to these will be able to process information, receive and send data. This requires electrical power. Transistors that are capable of switching information with a single electron use far less power than field effect transistors that are commonly used in computers. However, these innovative electronic switches do not yet work at room temperature. Scientists working on the new EU research project ‘Ions4Set’ intend to change this. The program will be launched on February 1. It is coordinated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).

“Billions of tiny computers will in future communicate with each other via the Internet or locally. Yet power consumption currently remains a great obstacle”,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

AKL’16: Experience Laser Technology Live in Europe´s Largest Laser Application Center!

02.02.2016 | Event News

From intelligent knee braces to anti-theft backpacks

26.01.2016 | Event News

DATE 2016 Highlighting Automotive and Secure Systems

26.01.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new potential biomarker for cancer imaging

05.02.2016 | Life Sciences

Graphene is strong, but is it tough?

05.02.2016 | Materials Sciences

Tiniest Particles Shrink Before Exploding When Hit With SLAC's X-ray Laser

05.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>