The thought of someone touching your eyeball might make you squirm. But imagine if that sensation was all over your body. Many sufferers of chronic pain feel agony at the gentlest of touches, even from their own clothes. Pictured inside the cornea at the front of a mouse’s eye (highlighted in blue) are stringy nerve endings that may offer clues to some relief. Each nerve cell, with its membrane stained red, is particularly sensitive to touch thanks to the yellow-coloured molecule, called Atat1, which controls the stiffness of the cells’ membranes. The bendiness of the membrane changes how the cells’ mechanoreceptors convert pressure from touching into signals bound for the brain. As a result, mice bred without Atat1 are less sensitive to touch and to certain forms of pain. As mouse and human cells work similarly, the search is on for chemicals that adjust membrane stiffness and soothe chronic pain.
Written by John Ankers
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