The sixth sense -- your place in space

April 3, 2006

In addition to the familiar five senses—touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste—scientists know of a sixth sense called proprioception It 's the sense of where your body is in space that allows you to touch your nose even with your eyes closed. Proprioception (PRO-pree-oh-ception) also informs balance and how to put one foot in front of the other to walk without looking at your feet.

LSI research assistant professor Shawn Xu and his colleagues discovered that the "sixth sense" is present in the model organism C. elegans, a 1 millimeter nematode,and have been using worms to study proprioception.

They have recently discovered some neurons that possibly regulate stretch receptors which tell the body how to move. For patients with Parkinson 's disease, these stretch receptors are thought to be involved in the loss of movement control, so finding a neuron that can tweak these signals could be a step towards developing new Parkinson 's treatments.

Xu focuses his research on a superfamily of critical, but poorly understood, calcium-permeable ion channels, the TRP channels. Using C. elegans, he found a communication channel between neuron and muscle, TRP-4, which plays a role in movement. Xu 's research shows that TRP-4 acts in a neuron called DVA that regulates how sensory-motor function is put together to produce movement. It controls locomotion, providing a unique mechanism whereby a single neuron can fine-tune motor activity.

"We are really studying neuronal signaling and the movement behavior, " Xu said. "There are many channels and they are the same in worms and humans. "

The paper "A C. elegans stretch receptor neuron revealed by a mechanosensitive TRP channel homologue," by Wei Li, Zhaoyang Feng, Paul W. Sternberg, and X. Z. Shawn Xu, was published in the journal Nature, March 29, 2006.

Source: University of Michigan

Explore further: First images of dolphin brain circuitry hint at how they sense sound

Related Stories

Robot eyes will benefit from insect vision

June 10, 2015

The way insects see and track their prey is being applied to a new robot under development at the University of Adelaide, in the hopes of improving robot visual systems.

Device may allow sensations in prosthetic hands

May 13, 2015

To the nearly 2 million people in the U.S. living with the loss of a limb, including U.S. military veterans, prosthetic devices provide restored mobility yet lack sensory feedback. A team of engineers and researchers at Washington ...

IBM peers into Numenta machine intelligence approach

April 9, 2015

Are we nowhere near the limits to which machines can make sense out of raw data? Some scientists would say that today's programmed computers cannot match a computer approach using biological learning principles for next ...

Keen sense of touch guides nimble bat flight

April 30, 2015

Bats fly with breathtaking precision because their wings are equipped with highly sensitive touch sensors, cells that respond to even slight changes in airflow, researchers have demonstrated for the first time.

Recommended for you

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

New blow for 'supersymmetry' physics theory

July 27, 2015

In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.