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How studying a chili pepper molecule can benefit chronic pain sufferers

 

Narrator:            This is Science Today. 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, professor and chair of the University of California, San Francisco's Department of Physiology, has worked with molecules found in hot chili peppers called capsaicin. 

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.

Narrator:            By understanding how molecular pathways related to pain sensation work, researchers can develop new types of therapeutics to deal with chronic pain syndromes.

Julius:                        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.

Narrator:            For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.