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Discovered -- protein responsible for the sense of touch

In a new study published in the journal Nature, researchers have revealed the protein that could be responsible for the sense of touch in mammals.

The study, carried out by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), identified two new ion-channel proteins in mice. They found that mice that lost their sensitivity to ordinary light touch did not have a mechanoreceptor protein called Piezo2 ion-channel in their skin cells and nerve endings. However, they retained their normal sensitivity to painful mechanical stimuli. (Read: How touch can heal)

The significant presence of Piezo2 in the touch-sensing neurons based in the dorsal root ganglia of the spine and extend their nerve processes into the skin, suggested that it could be a transducer in sense of touch of mammals. 'Across a range of tests, we observed a dramatic reduction in their responsiveness to ordinary light touch stimuli,' said Sanjeev Ranade, postdoctoral fellow at TSRI and lead author of the study.

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According to Ardem Patapoutian, professor at TSRI and investigator with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the expression of Piezo2 indicated that the protein is likely to be involved in the principal touch sensor in mammals. The finding suggests that the detection of light, innocuous touch--which we commonly think of as the 'sense of touch'--is mediated principally by one set of nerve ends using piezo2 ion channels. (Read: Slow, loving touch can boost your sense of self)

Stronger, pain-causing touch sensations appear to be mediated by a less force-sensitive set of nerve ends with their own ion channel proteins, which have yet to be discovered. (Read: Are the senses of touch and smell stronger than our sense of smell?)

Photo source: Getty images


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