Leading by the nose: Star-nosed mole reveals how mammals perceive touch, pain

Jan 30, 2013
This is a star-nosed mole. Credit: Kristin Gerhold and Diana Bautista

The most sensitive patch of mammalian skin known to us isn't human but on the star-shaped tip of the star-nosed mole's snout. Researchers studying this organ have found that the star has a higher proportion of touch-sensitive nerve endings than pain receptors, according to a study published January 30 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Diana Bautista and colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley and Vanderbilt University.

Touch and pain are closely intertwined sensations, but very little is known about how these sensations are detected in our cells. In this study, the authors turned to a unique species for answers: the star-nosed mole. In addition to its distinction as the fastest-eating mammal known, the star-nosed mole also possesses one of the most sensitive tactile organs known in the . The star on its nose has the highest density of nerve endings known in any mammalian skin, with over 100,000 fibers in a patch of skin about 1 cm. in diameter. The authors found these nerve endings significantly enriched in neurons sensitive to light touch, with a lower proportion of neurons that detect and respond to pain.

Here is the citation: Gerhold KA, Pellegrino M, Tsunozaki M, Morita T, Leitch DB, et al. (2013) The Star-Nosed Mole Reveals Clues to the Molecular Basis of Mammalian Touch. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55001. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055001 Credit: Kenneth Catania

The novel touch and they identified in the star-nosed mole were also detected in in mice and humans, suggesting that these receptors are likely to be more common across other mammals as well. According to the authors, their results highlight how examining diverse and highly specialized species can reveal fundamental aspects of biology common across different animals. Lead author on the study Bautista says, "By studying the star-nosed mole we identified that may mediate touch and pain. These genes represent new potential targets for the development of much needed drugs and therapies to treat chronic pain."

Explore further: New England Aquarium offering penguins 'honeymoon suites'

More information: Gerhold KA, Pellegrino M, Tsunozaki M, Morita T, Leitch DB, et al. (2013) The Star-Nosed Mole Reveals Clues to the Molecular Basis of Mammalian Touch. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55001. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055001

Related Stories

A scientist probes the origins of 'ouch!'

Jul 02, 2009

Skinning a knee, swallowing habanero salsa, and installing snow chains bare-handed might seem pretty different at first. But all have one thing in common -- they're guaranteed to hurt.

Naked mole-rats may hold clues to pain relief

Sep 22, 2012

Naked mole-rats evolved to thrive in an acidic environment that other mammals, including humans, would find intolerable. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago report new findings as to how ...

Pain and itch connected down deep

May 02, 2011

A new study of itch adds to growing evidence that the chemical signals that make us want to scratch are the same signals that make us wince in pain.

Cold feeling traced to source

Dec 18, 2007

For the first time, neuroscientists have visualized cold fibers – strands reaching from sensory neurons near the spinal cord to nerve endings in the skin tuned to sense different types of cold. The study and pictures appear ...

Recommended for you

Telling the time of day by color

Apr 17, 2015

Research by scientists at The University of Manchester has revealed that the colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures time of day and on how the animals' physiology and behavior adjust accordingly. ...

Aphrodisiac for fish and frogs discovered

Apr 17, 2015

A supplement simply added to water has been shown to boost reproduction in nematodes (roundworms), molluscs, fish and frogs – and researchers believe it could work for humans too.

Evolution puts checks on virgin births

Apr 17, 2015

It seems unnatural that a species could survive without having sex. Yet over the ages, evolution has endowed females of certain species of amphibians, reptiles and fish with the ability to clone themselves, ...

Humans can't resist those puppy-dog eyes

Apr 16, 2015

When humans and their four-legged, furry best friends look into one another's eyes, there is biological evidence that their bond strengthens, researchers report.

User comments : 0

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.