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Annu Rev Neurosci. 2001;24:487-517.

The vanilloid receptor: a molecular gateway to the pain pathway.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA. caterina@jhmi.edu

Abstract

The detection of painful stimuli occurs primarily at the peripheral terminals of specialized sensory neurons called nociceptors. These small-diameter neurons transduce signals of a chemical, mechanical, or thermal nature into action potentials and transmit this information to the central nervous system, ultimately eliciting a perception of pain or discomfort. Little is known about the proteins that detect noxious stimuli, especially those of a physical nature. Here we review recent advances in the molecular characterization of the capsaicin (vanilloid) receptor, an excitatory ion channel expressed by nociceptors, which contributes to the detection and integration of pain-producing chemical and thermal stimuli. The analysis of vanilloid receptor gene knockout mice confirms the involvement of this channel in pain sensation, as well as in hypersensitivity to noxious stimuli following tissue injury. At the same time, these studies demonstrate the existence of redundant mechanisms for the sensation of heat-evoked pain.

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