OHSU Scientists Discover That Cell's 'Energy Currency' May Also Signal Pain

May 27, 1997

Oregon Health Sciences University researchers have discovered that a common molecule acts as a pain messenger in the nervous system. Their work appears in the May 29, 1997 issue of the British journal Nature and may pave the way for the design of new pain-relieving drugs.

"This molecule adenosine triphosphate or ATP has long been known to govern energy production in the cell," explains Sean Cook, Ph.D., lead author of the article and postdoctoral fellow at OHSU's Vollum Institute. "Our team has now discovered that it also signals the nervous system to register sensations of pain."

Together with researchers at the University of Minnesota, the Oregon team found that pain-sensing nerves are stimulated when ATP attaches to a receptor called P2X3 on the nerve cell membrane in a lock and key fashion. ATP does not generate a pain signal, however, when it attaches to other receptors on the nerve cell membrane.

Long known as the prime energy broker for cells, ATP has only recently gained acceptance by scientists as a transmitter of messages in the nervous system. The molecule is found in every cell and is leaked when cells are damaged.

"ATP had been suspected of being a pain signal off and on for 15 to 20years," says Ed McCleskey, OHSU scientist who heads the laboratory in which this work was done. "But no one had specific proof."

McCleskey further explains that when cells are damaged, they leak ATP which then binds to the P2X3 receptors on near by nerve cells. "The binding of ATP to the P2X3 receptor is an important player in the body's ability to sense pain," says McCleskey. "A therapeutic drug that would prevent ATP from attaching to the P2X3 receptors on nerve cells could eventually prove very useful clinically."

Besides ATP, only a few pain messengers and their nerve membrane receptors are presently known. They include protons (acid) and capsaicin, the notorious component of hot chili peppers.

Oregon Health & Science University

Related Nerve Cells Articles from Brightsurf:

Nerve cells let others "listen in"
How many ''listeners'' a nerve cell has in the brain is strictly regulated.

Nerve cells with energy saving program
Thanks to a metabolic adjustment, the cells can remain functional despite damage to the mitochondria.

Why developing nerve cells can take a wrong turn
Loss of ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme leads to impediment in growth of nerve cells / Link found between cellular machineries of protein degradation and regulation of the epigenetic landscape in human embryonic stem cells

Unique fingerprint: What makes nerve cells unmistakable?
Protein variations that result from the process of alternative splicing control the identity and function of nerve cells in the brain.

Ragweed compounds could protect nerve cells from Alzheimer's
As spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, many people are cursing ragweed, a primary culprit in seasonal allergies.

Fooling nerve cells into acting normal
In a new study, scientists at the University of Missouri have discovered that a neuron's own electrical signal, or voltage, can indicate whether the neuron is functioning normally.

How nerve cells control misfolded proteins
Researchers have identified a protein complex that marks misfolded proteins, stops them from interacting with other proteins in the cell and directs them towards disposal.

The development of brain stem cells into new nerve cells and why this can lead to cancer
Stem cells are true Jacks-of-all-trades of our bodies, as they can turn into the many different cell types of all organs.

Research confirms nerve cells made from skin cells are a valid lab model for studying disease
Researchers from the Salk Institute, along with collaborators at Stanford University and Baylor College of Medicine, have shown that cells from mice that have been induced to grow into nerve cells using a previously published method have molecular signatures matching neurons that developed naturally in the brain.

Bees can count with just four nerve cells in their brains
Bees can solve seemingly clever counting tasks with very small numbers of nerve cells in their brains, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

Read More: Nerve Cells News and Nerve Cells Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.