Main protein for sensing touch identified in mammals

lab mouse

A close look at how mice respond to touch has helped scientists pinpoint the protein that makes mammals feel the sensation.

Rama/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0 FR)

When someone’s fingers graze our skin, it’s probably the protein Piezo2 that transforms the action into an electrical signal our brain recognizes as a light touch. Mice lacking Piezo2 in their skin cells and nerve endings aren’t as sensitive to light touches as mice with Piezo2, but the mice without Piezo2 still respond in a similar way to strong pokes and other painful stimuli. The results, published in the Dec. 4 Nature, suggest that one set of nerve endings using Piezo2 mediates mammals’ sense of touch while another set of nerve endings with proteins that have yet to be discovered transfer pain signals.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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