Screening a library of genes from sensory neurons to discover proteins that were sensitive to capsaicin led Julius’s team to one specific ion channel, TRPV1, that reacts to both capsaicin and pain-inducing heat (Nature 1997, DOI: 10.1038/39807). Just a few years later, Julius and Patapoutian independently discovered the cold-sensing receptor TRPM8, which is activated by menthol (Nature 2002, DOI: 10.1038/nature719; Cell 2002, DOI: 10.1016/s0092-8674(02)00652-9). Both researchers have continued to study TRP channels, but Patapoutian also looked at ion channels that detect mechanical force. The channels his team discovered, called PIEZO1 and PIEZO2, change their shape when the cell membranes they sit within bend in response to a touch (Science 2010, DOI: 10.1126/science.1193270). The change in shape opens the channels, allowing ions to flow across the membrane and generate a signal. “Not only did these two labs discover these proteins, but they have gone to great lengths to explain how they work at an atomic level,” says Michael Caterina, who studies pain sensation at Johns Hopkins University and worked with Julius in the 1990s.
by Laura Howes |
October 09, 2021