Nav: Home

Neuroscientists map brain's response to cold touch

June 18, 2018

Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientists have mapped the feeling of cool touch to the brain's insula in a mouse model. The findings, published in the June 15 issue of Journal of Comparative Neurology, provide an experimental model that will advance research into conditions like pain and hypersensitivity to cold and help researchers to continue to unravel the multifaceted ways touch is represented in the brain.

"Touch is, by nature, multi-modal. When you pick something up, it can be warm, smooth and heavy all at once. Your brain divides that touch into all of these different percepts. Understanding how it does this can show us how the brain adapts and learns in response to touch and how changes in these pathways can cause pain and disease," said Alison Barth, professor of biological sciences in the Mellon College of Science and member of the joint Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Basis of Neural Cognition.

Touch is a complex sense made up of different components like temperature, texture, weight and pressure -- for example, the smooth and heavy feel of a cold can of soda. Each of these tactile components can be represented in different parts of the brain, and parallel signals from the soda can will activate neurons in multiple areas of the brain, making it difficult to understand how any one of them is represented. Thermal sensation is particularly important, as these neural pathways are thought to overlap with pain, and chronic pain disorders often are associated with abnormal temperature sensitivity.

Although brain maps for touch sensation have been identified in humans, it has been an open question whether other animals share the same organization, a critical question that would enable new therapies to be developed and tested in animal models of disease. For example, reactions to pain and cold temperatures are seen in the insula in the human cerebral cortex. Researchers believed that the rodent insula was far less complex, and reactions to these stimuli wouldn't be observed in the same place as those found in the human brain.

In the current experiment, the Carnegie Mellon researchers looked to establish what part of the mouse brain responded to cool touch. Cold is unique in that only one receptor, TrpM8, responds to cool thermal sensation. Using both cool touch and also exposure to menthol, the researchers were able to show that the feeling of cold was represented in the rodent insula in striking correspondence with the area of the brain activated in humans. Critically, this region was not activated in mice lacking the TrpM8 receptor, indicating that it was highly specific to cool exposure.

The researchers also found that they could trigger the TrpM8 receptors using inhaled menthol and see the same activation in the insula, providing an even more robust way to study this component of touch.
-end-
Co-authors of the study include Patrick Beukema, Katherine L. Cecil, Elena Peterson, Victor R. Mann, Megumi Matsushita, Yoshio Takashima and Saket Navlakha.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NS086117).

Carnegie Mellon University

Related Brain Articles:

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.
BRAIN Initiative tool may transform how scientists study brain structure and function
Researchers have developed a high-tech support system that can keep a large mammalian brain from rapidly decomposing in the hours after death, enabling study of certain molecular and cellular functions.
Wiring diagram of the brain provides a clearer picture of brain scan data
In a study published today in the journal BRAIN, neuroscientists led by Michael D.
Blue Brain Project releases first-ever digital 3D brain cell atlas
The Blue Brain Cell Atlas is like ''going from hand-drawn maps to Google Earth'' -- providing previously unavailable information on major cell types, numbers and positions in all 737 brain regions.
Landmark study reveals no benefit to costly and risky brain cooling after brain injury
A landmark study, led by Monash University researchers, has definitively found that the practice of cooling the body and brain in patients who have recently received a severe traumatic brain injury, has no impact on the patient's long-term outcome.
Brain cells called astrocytes have unexpected role in brain 'plasticity'
Researchers from the Salk Institute have shown that astrocytes -- long-overlooked supportive cells in the brain -- help to enable the brain's plasticity, a new role for astrocytes that was not previously known.
Largest brain study of 62,454 scans identifies drivers of brain aging
In the largest known brain imaging study, scientists from Amen Clinics (Costa Mesa, CA), Google, John's Hopkins University, University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco evaluated 62,454 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans of more than 30,000 individuals from 9 months old to 105 years of age to investigate factors that accelerate brain aging.
Is whole-brain radiation still best for brain metastases from small-cell lung cancer?
University of Colorado Cancer Center study compares outcomes of 5,752 small-cell lung cancer patients who received whole-brain radiation therapy (WBRT) with those of 200 patients who received stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), finding that the median overall survival was actually longer with SRS (10.8 months with SRS versus 7.1 months with WBRT).
Atlas of brain blood vessels provides fresh clues to brain diseases
Even though diseases of the brain vasculature are some of the most common causes of death in the West, knowledge of these blood vessels is limited.
Brain sciences researcher pinpoints brain circuit that triggers fear relapse
Steve Maren, the Claude H. Everett Jr. '47 Chair of Liberal Arts professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, and his Emotion and Memory Systems Laboratory (EMSL) have made a breakthrough discovery in the process of fear relapse.
More Brain News and Brain Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.