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Nat Chem Biol. 2009 Mar;5(3):183-90. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.146. Epub 2009 Feb 8.

Zinc activates damage-sensing TRPA1 ion channels.

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Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, 10675 John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego, California 92121, USA.


Zinc is an essential biological trace element. It is required for the structure or function of over 300 proteins, and it is increasingly recognized for its role in cell signaling. However, high concentrations of zinc have cytotoxic effects, and overexposure to zinc can cause pain and inflammation through unknown mechanisms. Here we show that zinc excites nociceptive somatosensory neurons and causes nociception in mice through TRPA1, a cation channel previously shown to mediate the pungency of wasabi and cinnamon through cysteine modification. Zinc activates TRPA1 through a unique mechanism that requires zinc influx through TRPA1 channels and subsequent activation via specific intracellular cysteine and histidine residues. TRPA1 is highly sensitive to intracellular zinc, as low nanomolar concentrations activate TRPA1 and modulate its sensitivity. These findings identify TRPA1 as an important target for the sensory effects of zinc and support an emerging role for zinc as a signaling molecule that can modulate sensory transmission.

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