Some of the hottest news to come in from the world of science this time of the year is, ironically, about cold. Yes, scientists are hot on the trail of what makes us go ‘brrrr’ in winter, unraveling for the first time the mechanism behind this universal feeling experienced by all mammals, humans included. Researchers from the University of Southern California report that nerves in your body that sense the sting of icy winds are controlled by a single protein called TRPM8. They have explained how cold fibres — strands connecting sensory neurons near the spinal cord to nerve endings in the skin — are able to sense different types of cold.
Apparently, TRPM8 uses these cold fibres to relay cold signals up the spinal cord to the brain. It turns out TRPM8-expressing neurons also responsible for several other sensations like the sting of ice on the skin when you put a cold compress to it. This is not the first time researchers are digging up the cold facts on TRPM8. This time round, however, the team has used genetically-engineered mice for their tests. The mice had fluorescent tracer injected in their neurons so that whenever they felt cold — or expressed TRPM8 molecules — the cold fibres would light up.
An upside of this research is that it could lead to the development of drugs that induce cold sensation as an analgesic, or even block it to prevent chronic pain associated with cold sensation.