Narrator: Molecules that play a critical role in signaling a painful touch or temperature have offered researchers valuable insight into understanding and treating chronic pain. Dr. David Julius, an award-winning researcher in the field of thermosensation and pain research, previously identified a specific protein that causes capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot chili peppers, to bind to pain and heat sensing neurons in our pain pathway.
Julius: Hot chili peppers generate a percept of heat because it's really a chemical mimic of the process by which we experience heat as a thermal stimulus. So, the same molecule that's activated by capsaicin, which we call the capsaicin receptor, is also involved in detecting changes in temperature in the hot direction and this is what our nervous system uses in part to detect noxious heat.
Narrator: Julius' lab studies how other pain-producing stimuli, including tarantula venom, affects the pain pathway.
Julius: As scientists, you always want to find out the basics, ultimately from a therapeutic perspective - identifying molecular targets that are involved in signaling in the pain pathway obviously has relevance for drug design because those are potential targets for the development of drugs. Therapeutically we know that there's really a dearth of pharmacological treatments for pain. You know, there's opiates, there's non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, you know, aspirin, etc. And there are a few others, there's a lot of room for more, especially because there are different types of chronic pain syndromes. Lower back pain, arthritic pain, pain associated with infection, with tumor growth, all these kinds of things. The more we know about how something works, the easier it is to take a logical approach to developing new therapies and they'll probably require different types of treatment because they have different molecular underpinnings. And so the more targets that we have and certainly the more we understand about the basics of the signaling pathway, I think the greater the likelihood that we'll be able to take an intelligent and rational approach to developing medicines that can target different types of chronic pain syndromes.