Can You Feel It? Neuroscientists Turn Off Ability to Feel Cold in Lab Mice
For many of us, Valentine’s Day is a wonderful time to celebrate the one we love. For others among us… well, we mostly just try not to hate all you cute couples too much and get through the day without feeling too many feelings. For those of us who would rather shut down our perceptions today, there’s a far-off glimmer of hope — researchers at the University of Southern California have succeeded in turning off the ability of mice to feel. Well, to feel the sensation of cold, anyway, though we’re hopeful that turning off the ability to feel the bitter sting of disappointment or the dull, lasting ache of loneliness is just down the road.
In earlier work, the team, led by professor David McKemy, had discovered the link between the sensation of cold and a protein known as TRPM8. Now, the team has expanded on that knowledge, tracking down the nerve cells that express TRPM8 and selectively shutting them off. Doing so shuts down the ability to experience cold in lab mice, though the mice seem to continue to experience touch and heat properly. Mice given the treatment and placed on a series of uncomfortably hot and cold plates avoided the hot ones, but were unbothered by cold plates, suggesting that their ability to feel the cold was hampered.
Rather than the sensation of cold, McKemy’s team is looking into ways to treat pain in the long-term. The hope is that learning how to turn off particular sensations, rather than just issue a blanket dulling of all of them, could one day lead to new classes of targeted pain drugs that treat the sensation of pain without leaving patients groggy or out of sorts.