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Open Access Publications from the University of California
Cover page of Irritant-evoked activation and calcium modulation of the TRPA1 receptor.

Irritant-evoked activation and calcium modulation of the TRPA1 receptor.


The transient receptor potential ion channel TRPA1 is expressed by primary afferent nerve fibres, in which it functions as a low-threshold sensor for structurally diverse electrophilic irritants, including small volatile environmental toxicants and endogenous algogenic lipids1. TRPA1 is also a 'receptor-operated' channel whose activation downstream of metabotropic receptors elicits inflammatory pain or itch, making it an attractive target for novel analgesic therapies2. However, the mechanisms by which TRPA1 recognizes and responds to electrophiles or cytoplasmic second messengers remain unknown. Here we use strutural studies and electrophysiology to show that electrophiles act through a two-step process in which modification of a highly reactive cysteine residue (C621) promotes reorientation of a cytoplasmic loop to enhance nucleophilicity and modification of a nearby cysteine (C665), thereby stabilizing the loop in an activating configuration. These actions modulate two restrictions controlling ion permeation, including widening of the selectivity filter to enhance calcium permeability and opening of a canonical gate at the cytoplasmic end of the pore. We propose a model to explain functional coupling between electrophile action and these control points. We also characterize a calcium-binding pocket that is highly conserved across TRP channel subtypes and accounts for all aspects of calcium-dependent TRPA1 regulation, including potentiation, desensitization and activation by metabotropic receptors. These findings provide a structural framework for understanding how a broad-spectrum irritant receptor is controlled by endogenous and exogenous agents that elicit or exacerbate pain and itch.

Lys49 myotoxin from the Brazilian lancehead pit viper elicits pain through regulated ATP release.


Pain-producing animal venoms contain evolutionarily honed toxins that can be exploited to study and manipulate somatosensory and nociceptive signaling pathways. From a functional screen, we have identified a secreted phospholipase A2 (sPLA2)-like protein, BomoTx, from the Brazilian lancehead pit viper (Bothrops moojeni). BomoTx is closely related to a group of Lys49 myotoxins that have been shown to promote ATP release from myotubes through an unknown mechanism. Here we show that BomoTx excites a cohort of sensory neurons via ATP release and consequent activation of P2X2 and/or P2X3 purinergic receptors. We provide pharmacological and electrophysiological evidence to support pannexin hemichannels as downstream mediators of toxin-evoked ATP release. At the behavioral level, BomoTx elicits nonneurogenic inflammatory pain, thermal hyperalgesia, and mechanical allodynia, of which the latter is completely dependent on purinergic signaling. Thus, we reveal a role of regulated endogenous nucleotide release in nociception and provide a detailed mechanism of a pain-inducing Lys49 myotoxin from Bothrops species, which are responsible for the majority of snake-related deaths and injuries in Latin America.

TRPV1 structures in nanodiscs reveal mechanisms of ligand and lipid action.


When integral membrane proteins are visualized in detergents or other artificial systems, an important layer of information is lost regarding lipid interactions and their effects on protein structure. This is especially relevant to proteins for which lipid

Structure of the TRPA1 ion channel suggests regulatory mechanisms


© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.The TRPA1 ion channel (also known as the wasabi receptor) is a detector of noxious chemical agents encountered in our environment or produced endogenously during tissue injury or drug metabolism. The

Structure of the TRPV1 ion channel determined by electron cryo-microscopy


Transient receptor potential (TRP) channels are sensors for a wide range of cellular and environmental signals, but elucidating how these channels respond to physical and chemical stimuli has been hampered by a lack of detailed structural information. Here

TRPV1 structures in distinct conformations reveal activation mechanisms


Transient receptor potential (TRP) channels are polymodal signal detectors that respond to a wide range of physical and chemical stimuli. Elucidating how these channels integrate and convert physiological signals into channel opening is essential to unders

Cover page of A heteromeric Texas coral snake toxin targets acid-sensing ion channels to produce pain.

A heteromeric Texas coral snake toxin targets acid-sensing ion channels to produce pain.


Natural products that elicit discomfort or pain represent invaluable tools for probing molecular mechanisms underlying pain sensation. Plant-derived irritants have predominated in this regard, but animal venoms have also evolved to avert predators by targeting neurons and receptors whose activation produces noxious sensations. As such, venoms provide a rich and varied source of small molecule and protein pharmacophores that can be exploited to characterize and manipulate key components of the pain-signalling pathway. With this in mind, here we perform an unbiased in vitro screen to identify snake venoms capable of activating somatosensory neurons. Venom from the Texas coral snake (Micrurus tener tener), whose bite produces intense and unremitting pain, excites a large cohort of sensory neurons. The purified active species (MitTx) consists of a heteromeric complex between Kunitz- and phospholipase-A2-like proteins that together function as a potent, persistent and selective agonist for acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs), showing equal or greater efficacy compared with acidic pH. MitTx is highly selective for the ASIC1 subtype at neutral pH; under more acidic conditions (pH < 6.5), MitTx massively potentiates (>100-fold) proton-evoked activation of ASIC2a channels. These observations raise the possibility that ASIC channels function as coincidence detectors for extracellular protons and other, as yet unidentified, endogenous factors. Purified MitTx elicits robust pain-related behaviour in mice by activation of ASIC1 channels on capsaicin-sensitive nerve fibres. These findings reveal a mechanism whereby snake venoms produce pain, and highlight an unexpected contribution of ASIC1 channels to nociception.

Cover page of Ganglion-specific splicing of TRPV1 underlies infrared sensation in vampire bats.

Ganglion-specific splicing of TRPV1 underlies infrared sensation in vampire bats.


Vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) are obligate blood feeders that have evolved specialized systems to suit their sanguinary lifestyle. Chief among such adaptations is the ability to detect infrared radiation as a means of locating hotspots on warm-blooded prey. Among vertebrates, only vampire bats, boas, pythons and pit vipers are capable of detecting infrared radiation. In each case, infrared signals are detected by trigeminal nerve fibres that innervate specialized pit organs on the animal's face. Thus, vampire bats and snakes have taken thermosensation to the extreme by developing specialized systems for detecting infrared radiation. As such, these creatures provide a window into the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying evolutionary tuning of thermoreceptors in a species-specific or cell-type-specific manner. Previously, we have shown that snakes co-opt a non-heat-sensitive channel, vertebrate TRPA1 (transient receptor potential cation channel A1), to produce an infrared detector. Here we show that vampire bats tune a channel that is already heat-sensitive, TRPV1, by lowering its thermal activation threshold to about 30 °C. This is achieved through alternative splicing of TRPV1 transcripts to produce a channel with a truncated carboxy-terminal cytoplasmic domain. These splicing events occur exclusively in trigeminal ganglia, and not in dorsal root ganglia, thereby maintaining a role for TRPV1 as a detector of noxious heat in somatic afferents. This reflects a unique organization of the bat Trpv1 gene that we show to be characteristic of Laurasiatheria mammals (cows, dogs and moles), supporting a close phylogenetic relationship with bats. These findings reveal a novel molecular mechanism for physiological tuning of thermosensory nerve fibres.

Cover page of Molecular basis of infrared detection by snakes.

Molecular basis of infrared detection by snakes.


Snakes possess a unique sensory system for detecting infrared radiation, enabling them to generate a 'thermal image' of predators or prey. Infrared signals are initially received by the pit organ, a highly specialized facial structure that is innervated by nerve fibres of the somatosensory system. How this organ detects and transduces infrared signals into nerve impulses is not known. Here we use an unbiased transcriptional profiling approach to identify TRPA1 channels as infrared receptors on sensory nerve fibres that innervate the pit organ. TRPA1 orthologues from pit-bearing snakes (vipers, pythons and boas) are the most heat-sensitive vertebrate ion channels thus far identified, consistent with their role as primary transducers of infrared stimuli. Thus, snakes detect infrared signals through a mechanism involving radiant heating of the pit organ, rather than photochemical transduction. These findings illustrate the broad evolutionary tuning of transient receptor potential (TRP) channels as thermosensors in the vertebrate nervous system.