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: What lies behind ghosts, demons and aliens—according to sleep researchers

Related Stories

Neurons ripple while brains rest to lock in memories

June 5, 2018

Memories resonate in the mind even when it's not aware of processing them. New research from Rice University and Michigan Medicine takes a step toward understanding why these ripples hint at the bigger picture of how brains ...

Recommended for you

Unconfirmed near-Earth objects

June 22, 2018

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are small solar system bodies whose orbits sometimes bring them close to the Earth, potentially threatening a collision. NEOs are tracers of the composition, dynamics and environmental conditions ...

How community structure affects the resilience of a network

June 22, 2018

Network theory is a method for analyzing the connections between nodes in a system. One of the most compelling aspects of network theory is that discoveries related to one field, such as cellular biology, can be abstracted ...

Detecting metabolites at close range

June 22, 2018

A novel concept for a biosensor of the metabolite lactate combines an electron transporting polymer with lactate oxidase, which is the enzyme that specifically catalyzes the oxidation of lactate. Lactate is associated with ...

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.