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Feel the Burn

The linked sensations of temperature and pain come from a family of membrane proteins that can tell neurons to fire when heated or hot-peppered

Gina M. Story, Lillian Cruz-Orengo

Figure%201.%20Spice%20market%20in%20IstanbulClick to Enlarge ImageThe seeming impossibility of "burning cold" isn't actually far-fetched, given that both cold and heat are sensed by molecular siblings—members of a cell-receptor family called the transient receptor potential, or TRP, channels. These membrane proteins detect temperature and certain chemicals, giving rise to neuron activity that corresponds to sensations of heat and cold. The same signals are integral to the perception of pain and our sense of taste for pungent compounds such as mustard, cinnamon, hot peppers and wasabi. Studying the biology of TRP channels and the neurons that bear them promises to reveal many of the mechanisms of physical sensation, including acute, inflammatory and chronic forms of pain.

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