The study, which is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, helps shed light on the complex interactions between the senses of taste and touch, and could lead to a greater understanding of the causes of the tingling sensations experienced by many chronic pain patients.
Widely used in Asian cooking, the Szechuan pepper was found to mimic the sense of touch in the brain. It chemically activates light-touch fibres on the lips and tongue and sends the equivalent of 50 light taps to the brain per second.
Dr Nobuhiro Hagura (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience), lead author of the study, said: "This is the first time that we've been able to show how chemicals activate touch fibres, inducing a measureable frequency. We know that natural products like chilli, mustard oil and menthol can activate the thermal and pain fibres in the skin, but we wanted to find out why Szechuan pepper specifically works on the light-touch fibres, producing a conscious sensation of touch and that distinctive tingling feeling."
After Szechuan pepper was applied to the lips of volunteers, participants were asked to match the frequency of the resulting tingling sensation by adjusting a vibrating stimulus, either higher or lower, on their fingertips.
The team was able to show that an active ingredient in the peppers stimulates specific RA1 fibres in the lips and tongue. These fibres are responsible for transmitting touch sensation, and send the equivalent of a light tap on the skin to the brain at the rate of 50 times per second.
Dr Hagura said: "What we found was that a unique active ingredient in the pepper, called sanshool, activates these fibres, sending a highly specific signal to the brain. Szechuan peppers and physical touch sensations share this same pathway to the brain.
"We hope that laboratory studies of the tingling sensations caused by sanshool could help to clarify the brain processes underlying these sensations, and how they are related to pain in some cases."
The team also hopes to investigate the reasons why people enjoy eating Szechuan pepper and how touch sensation can boost the taste of food.
Notes for editors
1. For more information or to speak to Dr Nobuhiro Hagura, please contact George Wigmore in the UCL Media Relations office on tel: +44 (0)20 3108 9195, mob: +44 (0)7717 728 648 or email: email@example.com
2. 'Food vibrations: Asian spice sets lips trembling,' by Hagura al is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B; Biological Science. Copies are available from UCL Media Relations on request.
3. Dr Hagura was supported by a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship. Professor Haggard was supported by the Lerverhulme Trust Research Fellowship and by EU FP7 project VERE.
About UCL (University College London)
Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.
We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world.
UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Our annual income is more than £800 million.
David Weston | EurekAlert!
A promising target for kidney fibrosis
21.04.2017 | Brigham and Women's Hospital
Stem cell transplants: activating signal paths may protect from graft-versus-host disease
20.04.2017 | Technische Universität München
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy