Stopping cold: Scientists turn off the ability to feel cold

February 14, 2013 by Robert Perkins

(Medical Xpress)—USC neuroscientists have isolated chills at a cellular level, identifying the sensory network of neurons in the skin that relays the sensation of cold.

David McKemy, associate professor of in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and his team managed to selectively shut off the ability to sense cold in mice while still leaving them able to sense heat and touch.

In prior work, McKemy discovered a link between the experience of cold and a protein known as TRPM8 (pronounced trip-em-ate), which a sensor of in in the skin, as well as a receptor for menthol, the cooling component of mint. Now, in a paper appearing in the on February 13, McKemy and his co-investigators have isolated and ablated the neurons that express TRPM8, giving them the ability to test the function of these cells specifically.

Using mouse-tracking software program developed by one of McKemy's students, the researchers tested control mice and mice without TRPM8 neurons on a multi-temperature surface. The surface temperature ranged from 0 degrees to 50 degrees Celsius (32 to 122 degrees Farenheit), and mice were allowed to move freely among the regions.

The researchers found that mice depleted of TRPM8 neurons could not feel cold, but still responded to heat. Control mice tended to stick to an area around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoided both colder and hotter areas. But mice without TRPM8 neurons avoided only hotter plates and not cold—even when the cold should have been painful or was potentially dangerous.

In tests of grip strength, responses to touch, or coordinated movements, such as balancing onto a rod while it rotated, there was no difference between the control mice and the mice without TRPM8-expressing neurons.

By better understanding the specific ways in which we feel sensations, scientists hope to one day develop better pain treatments without knocking out all ability to feel for suffering patients.

"The problem with pain drugs now is that they typically just reduce inflammation, which is just one potential cause of pain, or they knock out all sensation, which often is not desirable," McKemy said. "One of our goals is to pave the way for medications that address the pain directly, in a way that does not leave patients completely numb."

Explore further: The sensation of cold is shut down by inflammation

Related Stories

The sensation of cold is shut down by inflammation

July 2, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Research groups at the University of Cambridge and the Instituto de Neurociencias, in Spain, have discovered a new and unexpected mechanism by which cold sensation is regulated, and opens up the possibility ...

Researchers discover way to block body's response to cold

March 1, 2012
Researchers at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, in collaboration with Amgen Inc. and several academic institutions, have discovered a way to block the body's response to cold using a drug. This ...

Recommended for you

Make way for hemoglobin

August 18, 2017
Every cell in the body, whether skin or muscle or brain, starts out as a generic cell that acquires its unique characteristics after undergoing a process of specialization. Nowhere is this process more dramatic than it is ...

Bio-inspired materials give boost to regenerative medicine

August 18, 2017
What if one day, we could teach our bodies to self-heal like a lizard's tail, and make severe injury or disease no more threatening than a paper cut?

Female mouse embryos actively remove male reproductive systems

August 17, 2017
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

August 17, 2017
Gastric carcinoma is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths, primarily because most patients present at an advanced stage of the disease. The main cause of this cancer is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, ...

New Pathology Atlas maps genes in cancer to accelerate progress in personalized medicine

August 17, 2017
A new Pathology Atlas is launched today with an analysis of all human genes in all major cancers showing the consequence of their corresponding protein levels for overall patient survival. The difference in expression patterns ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MrVibrating
not rated yet Feb 14, 2013
Weird, i hadn't even considered that a sense of cold existed..!

So is this just a conscious sense then, or are the knockout mice also deprived of subconscious vasoconstriction-type effects?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.