Sandra Carral Garcín’s column | A Nobel Prize for Sensory Research – Fourth

Ing. Sandra Carral Garcín.

That this award has been awarded to the work of scientists in something so essential, such as the ability of the human body to detect temperature and pressure, is a return to the basic natural senses for survival.

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The news of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for molecular biologists Dr. David Julius and Dr. Ardem Patapoutian has been a shock to those who hoped it would address what were anticipated as favorites, the pioneering scientists in mRNA vaccine research.

That this award has been awarded to the work of scientists in something so essential, such as the ability of the human body to detect temperature and pressure, is a return to the basic natural senses for survival, giving them the importance, sometimes forgotten, they have in animal and human life.

We are not aware of these mechanisms, except when they are exacerbated by unpleasant stimuli or when, due to some affectation, they do not work well. Knowing, from these works, those mechanisms, their receptors and mediators, means a great advance for later developments of treatments for chronic conditions, for example.

According to a document by members of the Nobel Committee *, the discoveries that made it possible to identify the “molecular transducers responsible for detecting and converting heat, cold and touch into nerve impulses in the sensory nervous system were awarded”. David Julius’ work allowed the identification of a new ion channel called TRP1, which, for example, is activated by temperatures that can cause pain, which opened the doors to the molecular understanding of thermosensitivity. The work of Ardem Patapoutian allowed the identification of ion channels activated by mechanical stimuli, PIEZO1 and PIEZO2, the latter being “the largest mechanical transducer in somatic nerves and is required for our perception of touch and proprioception”. Proprioception is the body’s ability to perceive its position, movements, and actions.

Several TRP receptors were identified in work started since the 1990s, for example, TRPM8, a receptor related to the perception of cold, the discovery of which is an achievement of the aforementioned researchers, separately. These TRP channels blocked at different temperature ranges act together to encode temperature and heat-induced pain in the somatosensory nervous system.

As for PIEZO proteins, through their mechanosensitivity they serve as mechanotransducers in many types of cells, converting mechanical force into electrochemical signals. Examples of the activity of these channels are: the activity as receptors of PIEZO2, present in the lung stretch receptors in the wall of bronchi and bronchioles, which are activated by large inspirations and initiate a reflex that protects the lung from excessive inflation ; the monitoring and maintenance of blood pressure by the arterial baroreflex is based on PIEZO1 and PIEZO2 present in the ganglia of sensory neurons.

Numerous are the implications of these ion channels in relation to congenital or acquired diseases, which has been and is the subject of tests and in vivo studies in animals and humans, hence the importance of these investigations developed over years.

In the framework of history, the continuation of efforts to decipher the mechanisms of the human body is certainly being accompanied by technological advances, which make it possible to chain different works to understand the sophisticated functioning of cells, organs and systems of organisms alive.

We live in times of revolutions in the field of knowledge, however the selection criteria for this award seems to have been marked by its classic prudence, which is welcome since it takes a perspective of years to weigh the risks and benefits of certain advances.

For more information:

* Scientific background. Discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2021/advanced-information/

We would like to say thanks to the author of this write-up for this remarkable material

Sandra Carral Garcín’s column | A Nobel Prize for Sensory Research – Fourth

Hank Gilbert