AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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Blueprint of Body’s Heat Sensor Discovered

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In a study published in the journal Nature Structural Biology and Molecular Biology, researchers describe the structure of a protein linked to pain and heat reception in the brain. An ion channel in the cell surface membrane, called TRPV2, this port-like structure plays a role in a number of disparate biological processes, such as maintaining a healthy heart, helping dispose of pathogens and inducing cell death in certain cancers. “These receptors are gaining particular attention because they are so critical to how we sense and respond to our environment,” said the study’s senior author. “Our results give a hint as to how one receptor works, a necessary component for developing new treatments for a variety of conditions involving sensation.” The results of the study offer an important step toward developing new therapies that target pain receptors and has the potential to help those suffering from chronic pain conditions. Ion channels are scattered across all cell membranes and act as gatekeepers of information flowing in and out of cells. In the case of TRPV (Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid, pronounced trip-vee), this information takes the form of calcium ions. Like the turning of a valve, TRPV receptors open in response to noxious heat or other stimuli, allowing an influx of calcium ions that convey a signal through the nervous system to the brain. Structural biologists believe that deducing the schematics of these valves can give them the blueprint for designing drugs that target ion channels. Recently, researchers solved the structure of the first protein in the TRPV superfamily, TRPV1. Their results gave a picture of the protein in two different states — when it was open to the flow of ions and when it was closed off. To read more about this study, click here.

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