Narrator: This is Science Today. A nerve protein found on the surface of many sensory nerves has been discovered to be crucial to sensations of pain from heat, as well as tissue injury and inflammation. David Julius, a professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, says a few years ago, his lab isolated the gene that codes this protein known as the capsaicin receptor.
Julius: This molecule is called the capsaicin receptor because it binds the ingredients in hot peppers that makes them pungent. Now that this gene and other genes involved in activation of neurons that are dedicated to sensing painful stimuli have been cloned, that opens up the possibility to do these kinds of genetic analyses and to look for correlates in disease or genetic variations in pain sensitivity.
Narrator: It also opens up the possibility of developing new pain relieving drugs.
Julius: There aren't a huge number of drugs and there are a lot of forms of pain that are just simply intractable. And I think until we know more about the proteins on the surface of the nerve cell, it's going to be very difficult to identify drugs.
Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.