…he has revealed how scorpion venom targets the “wasabi” receptor TRPA1
September 5, 2019 1:23 PM   Subscribe

What Chili Peppers Can Teach Us about Pain: U.C. San Francisco researcher and Breakthrough Prize–winner David Julius talks about capsaicin, opioids and snake vision (Scientific American)

David Julius knows pain. The professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine has devoted his career to studying how the nervous system senses it and how chemicals such as capsaicin—the compound that gives chili peppers their heat—activates pain receptors. Julius was awarded a $3-million Breakthrough Prize in life sciences on Thursday for “discovering molecules, cells, and mechanisms underlying pain sensation.”

Julius and his colleagues revealed how cell-membrane proteins called transient receptor potential (TRP) channels are involved in the perception of pain and heat or cold, as well as their role in inflammation and pain hypersensitivity. Much of his work has focused on the mechanism by which capsaicin exerts its potent effect on the human nervous system. His team identified the receptor responsive to capsaicin, TRPV1, and showed that it is also activated by heat and inflammatory chemicals. More recently, he has revealed how scorpion venom targets the “wasabi” receptor TRPA1. Drug developers are now investigating whether these receptors and others could be targeted to create nonopioid painkillers.
posted by not_the_water (2 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
It's fascinating that the same receptor pathway our body uses for heat, like fire is hot, is the one used for capsaicin. That explains the sweat pouring off my body when I'm eating a really hot bowl of green chile stew. It's not the illusion of heat -- it's actual heat.

Also why drinking hot drinks on a hot day will cool you down -- it raises your temperature and you sweat more. Helps if you have a fan or a breeze.

And wasabi has its own version of heat, with its own receptor, and apparently scorpions are involved. That wasn't explained very well, why that was important or how it's different.

This was great to read. Thanks so much for posting!
posted by hippybear at 7:51 PM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've occasionally wondered if chile pain is the same as heat pain without really thinking deeply what it means for pain to be the same. They trigger the same receptor, so it feels the same. I would argue chile pain is something of a tactile illusion in the sense that you are perceiving heat damage where no damage actually occurs.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:35 PM on September 6, 2019

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