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 Family tree for orchids explains their astonishing variability
04.09.2015 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Gone with the wind: A new project focusses on atmospheric input of phosphorus into the Baltic Sea
04.09.2015 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Hubble survey unlocks clues to star birth in neighboring galaxy

In a survey of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope images of 2,753 young, blue star clusters in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy (M31), astronomers have found that M31 and our own galaxy have a similar percentage of newborn stars based on mass.

By nailing down what percentage of stars have a particular mass within a cluster, or the Initial Mass Function (IMF), scientists can better interpret the light...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact Inverter for Uninterruptible Power Supplies

Silicon Carbide Components Enable Efficiency of 98.7 percent

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE have developed a highly compact and efficient inverter for use in uninterruptible power...

Im Focus: How wind sculpted Earth's largest dust deposit

China's Loess Plateau was formed by wind alternately depositing dust or removing dust over the last 2.6 million years, according to a new report from University of Arizona geoscientists. The study is the first to explain how the steep-fronted plateau formed.

China's Loess Plateau was formed by wind alternately depositing dust or removing dust over the last 2.6 million years, according to a new report from...

Im Focus: An engineered surface unsticks sticky water droplets

The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets still stick to them. Now, Penn State researchers have developed nano/micro-textured, highly slippery surfaces able to outperform these naturally inspired coatings, particularly when the water is a vapor or tiny droplets.

Enhancing the mobility of liquid droplets on rough surfaces could improve condensation heat transfer for power-plant heat exchangers, create more efficient...

Im Focus: Increasingly severe disturbances weaken world's temperate forests

Longer, more severe, and hotter droughts and a myriad of other threats, including diseases and more extensive and severe wildfires, are threatening to transform some of the world's temperate forests, a new study published in Science has found. Without informed management, some forests could convert to shrublands or grasslands within the coming decades.

"While we have been trying to manage for resilience of 20th century conditions, we realize now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Together - Work - Experience

03.09.2015 | Event News

Networking conference in Heidelberg for outstanding mathematicians and computer scientists

20.08.2015 | Event News

Scientists meet in Münster for the world’s largest Chitin und Chitosan Conference

20.08.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Ion implanted, co-annealed, screen-printed 21% efficient n-PERT solar cells with a bifaciality >97%

04.09.2015 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Casting of SiSiC: new perspectives for chemical and plant engineering

04.09.2015 | Machine Engineering

Extremely thin ceramic components made possible by extrusion

04.09.2015 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>