Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MDC Researchers Develop Method to Detect Molecular-Scale Movements Relevant for Fine Touch

10.04.2014

Touch can be comforting, raise a person’s spirits and even evoke feelings of happiness. The sensation of touch begins in our skin or more specifically, in certain cells whose nerve endings (neurites) are distributed throughout our skin.

Some of these cells are so incredibly sensitive that even Prof. Gary Lewin and Dr. Kate Poole, who have been studying the “mechanoreception” of the touch sensation for years, were surprised by their findings.

The two scientists of the Max Delbrück Center (MDC) Berlin-Buch and their team of researchers have developed a system with which molecular-scale mechanical stimuli can be exerted on a single cell (Nature Communications, doi: 10.1038/ ncomms4520)*.

The most sensitive of these cells “react to mechanical changes on their surface in the order of magnitude of a few millionths of a millimeter,” said Dr. Poole. “For a pain-sensitive cell to respond – it functions like a mechanoreceptive cell – a considerably stronger stimulus is needed,” the biologist said, explaining the latest experiments of the MDC researchers. These findings could be important to develop new therapies for people with neuropathic pain, for example, for shingles. For these patients, the slightest touch is painful.

In their previous work the Berlin researchers showed that the mechanoreceptive cells are crucial for the sensation of touch – but only in the context of their surroundings, the so-called matrix and its constituent molecules. Pressure or movement of the skin acts on both the matrix and the embedded nerve endings simultaneously.

To unlock the secrets of the sense of touch, the scientists created an artificial system that mimics real-world conditions. It looks like a tiny nail cushion just a few thousandths of a millimeter in size. This system allows very fine and defined mechanical stimuli to be exerted on mechanosensitive cells – via their connection with the matrix. Simultaneously with matrix movement the researchers can directly measure the electrical response of the cell.

Dr. Poole and the research team were amazed to find that if one single nail within the special nail cushion is displaced by just a ten millionth of a millimeter, mechanosensitive cells react and transduce the stimulus, in the intact organism to the brain.

Apparently, mammals have groups of touch sensors with different levels of sensitivity. Pain-sensitive cells from the skin of the mouse, however, must be mechanically stimulated 1000 times stronger before they are activated. “That makes sense,” said study leader Professor Lewin, “otherwise we would often feel pain unnecessarily.”

In a second step, the MDC researchers wanted to know what molecules mediate the significantly different sensitivity of touch and pain sensory cells. The result: a protein named Stoml3 substantially controls the variation in the sensitivity to mechanical stimuli. “When the gene for Stoml3 is inactivated,” Dr. Poole said, “the differences in mechanosensitivity sensitivity almost completely disappear.”

According to the findings of the MDC researchers, Stoml3 modulates the activity and sensitivity of two so-called ion channels in the membranes of many different cell types. These ion channels are called Piezo1 and Piezo2. “Our findings strongly indicate that Piezo2 is involved in touch perception and transduces the appropriate signals, under powerful regulatory control by Stoml3,” Professor Lewin added.

Understanding how Stoml3 works exactly could open up new ways to combat neuropathic pain. The researchers are seeking to block the hypersensitive touch sensors in the skin of patients. According to Lewin, Stoml3 provides a very good target for this. A potentially interesting aspect of this study: An anesthetic injection, e.g. by the dentist, numbs all feeling in the tissue. By contrast, this new form of therapy would only inhibit the conversion of mechanical stimuli into electrical signals. “Otherwise you could continue to feel everything,” said Lewin, “heat, cold, and so on.”

*Tuning Piezo ion channels to detect molecular-scale movements relevant for fine touch

Kate Poole1,*, Regina Herget1, Liudmila Lapatsina1, Ha-Duong Ngo2 and Gary R. Lewin1,*
Affiliations:1 Department of Neuroscience, Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Robert-Rössle Straße 10, D-13092 Berlin, Germany.
2Microsensor & Actuator Technology, Technische Universität Berlin, D-13355 Berlin, Germany.

Contact:
Barbara Bachtler
Press Department
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
in the Helmholtz Association
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10
13125 Berlin
Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 33
e-mail: presse@mdc-berlin.de
http://www.mdc-berlin.de/

Barbara Bachtler | Max-Delbrück-Centrum

Further reports about: MDC Max-Delbrück-Centrum Molecular neuropathic pain sensitive sensitivity signals skin stimulus

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer
12.02.2016 | Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University

nachricht New method opens crystal clear views of biomolecules
11.02.2016 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Production of an AIDS vaccine in algae

Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.

The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...

Im Focus: The most accurate optical single-ion clock worldwide

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...

Im Focus: Goodbye ground control: autonomous nanosatellites

The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.

Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...

Im Focus: Flow phenomena on solid surfaces: Physicists highlight key role played by boundary layer velocity

Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.

The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Im Focus: New study: How stable is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels

A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Symposium on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa 2016

12.02.2016 | Event News

Travel grants available: Meet the world’s most proficient mathematicians and computer scientists

09.02.2016 | Event News

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

02.02.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

LIGO confirms RIT's breakthrough prediction of gravitational waves

12.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer

12.02.2016 | Life Sciences

Using 'Pacemakers' in spinal cord injuries

12.02.2016 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>