New Method Discovered to ‘Turn Off’ Sensation of Feeling Cold: USC Scientists

First Posted: Feb 14, 2013 06:11 AM EST

Scientists have discovered a new way to turn off the ability to sense cold. They have found a novel method of turning off the neuron that is responsible for sensing cold in mice, while still leaving them able to sense touch and heat.  

The extreme cold temperatures force people to bundle up. Some people are immune to cold, but not all can withstand the cold temperatures. According to CDC, from 1999 to 2011 almost 16,911 deaths occurred in the United States, with an average of 1,301 per year due to exposure to an excessively cold climate. The highest yearly total of hypothermia-related deaths (1,536) was in 2010 and the lowest (1,058) in 2006.

If you are among those who are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures, neuroscientists at the University of Southern California have come up with a finding that may serve as a relief.

The study, led by David McKemy, associate professor of neurobiology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and his colleagues, has discovered a protein known as 'TRPM8' that is a sensor of cold temperatures in neurons in the skin. The same protein acts as a receptor for menthol.

Prior to this, McKemy in his previous works had revealed a strong association between the protein TRPM8 and the sensation of feeling cold.

In order to test the function of these cells, the scientists isolated and cut off the neurons that express TRPM8. With the help of a mouse-tracking software program, they tested the control mice and the ones without TRPM8 neurons. These were placed in a multi temperature surface that ranged from 0-50 degrees C.

On doing so, they noticed that those mice that lacked TRPM8 neurons didn't feel cold, but they did respond to heat. On the other hand, the control group limited themselves to an area that had around 30 degrees Celsius. The control group restricted themselves from both colder and hotter areas, whereas the mice without TRPM8 neurons avoided hotter areas and not colder ones.

"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 in a press statement.

This newly discovered process is irreversible and the scientists suggest for pharmaceutical companies to develop some drug that makes the effect temporary, reports US News.

The study was published in the Feb. 13 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience

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