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Study Identifies a Novel Mechanism by Which Cells May Detect a Variety of Sensations

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Although the stretch-gated ion channel Piezo2 is found in several tissues, only primary sensory neurons express a diversity of variants with unique properties.

The results of a new study build on earlier NCCIH-funded research on the Piezo2 protein (encoded for by the Piezo2 gene), which is involved in detecting touch and other sensations. The new study shows that the gene guides the production of different forms of the protein, which may play roles in distinguishing sensations such as gentle touch, stretching, vibration, and pain. These findings indicate that touch detection is regulated at the molecular level to produce distinct responses in different types of cells. The study, funded jointly by NCCIH and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), was published in Cell Reports.

The researchers showed that in mice, the stretch-gated ion channel Piezo2 undergoes extensive alternative splicing?a process by which RNA products from a gene combine in different arrangements to produce variants of a protein. Sensory nerve cells have multiple forms of the Piezo2 protein; other types of cells, such as lung and bladder cells, have only one predominant type. Different variants of the protein function in different ways. The researchers also found that the same Piezo2 alternative splicing happens in humans—meaning that it occurs in very similar ways in different species. This finding indicated that its role is fundamentally important.

Previous research has identified several other mechanisms for sensory specialization. This study adds to knowledge in this area by identifying an additional process that may contribute to the ability of cells to distinguish different types of sensations.


Publication Date: December 5, 2017