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Research Expertise and Interest
In mammals, the initial detection of noxious chemical, mechanical or thermal stimuli – a process referred to as nociception – is mediated by specialized somatosensory neurons called nociceptors. Surprising little is known about the molecules underlying nociception. How painful stimuli excite nociceptors and how injury changes sensitivity to touch and pain are open questions. Our current research focuses on elucidating the molecular mechanisms of somatosensory mechanotransduction. Because many forms of injury are accompanied by mechanical hypersensitivity, understanding the molecular basis of mechanosensation will help to elucidate chronic pain mechanisms. Despite its widespread importance, little is known about the molecular mechanisms that mechanosensitive neurons use to detect benign and harmful touch. We are using two approaches to identify the transduction events underlying somatosensory mechanotransduction. First, we are developing new tools for the functional analysis of somatosensory neurons. Second, in collaboration with Dr. Ken Catania (Vanderbilt U.), we are investigating the cellular and molecular basis of touch reception in star-nosed moles.