Researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden have discovered a new sensory organ in the skin that detects pain. Published in the journal ‘Science’, this discovery points to a special cell surrounding the nerve cells and extending into the outer layer of skin (epidermis), involved in sensing pain.
These specialized cells are a kind of Schwann cells that are octopus like in shape. This study reveals that after examining the cells, the researchers found that they have long extensions and are highly sensitive to mechanical stimuli like painful pinpricks and pressure. Collectively they go to make up a mesh like organ within the skin.
The findings included, the understanding of the neurobiological basis of the pain sensory organ and its sensitivity to hazardous environmental irritation. Also, that free nerve endings are responsible for pain and Schwann cells can sense pain automatically, sending signals to the brain via the wrapped nerve cells. The Schwann cells and nerve cells engulf to form a mesh like network.
The technique used for the research is optogenetics, which involves a genetic modification in the Schwann cell’s feet skin. When light falls, it absorbs the protein produced and gets stimulated. This affects the membrane, causing a shift in the cells electrical charge. Eventually, the cells lift their feet which is an indication about the pain caused by showing behavior like licking and shaking.
Till date, this is the discovery of a new pain sensing organ.