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: Microscopic eye movements affect how we see contrast

Related Stories

Microscopic eye movements affect how we see contrast

January 28, 2019

It is often difficult for a driver to see a person walking on the side of the road at night—especially if the person is wearing dark colors. One of the factors causing this difficulty is a decrease in contrast, making it ...

Gene therapy blocks peripheral nerve damage in mice

January 17, 2019

Nerve axons serve as the wiring of the nervous system, sending electrical signals that control movement and sense of touch. When axons are damaged, whether by injury or as a side effect of certain drugs, a program is triggered ...

Recommended for you

Matter waves and quantum splinters

March 25, 2019

Physicists in the United States, Austria and Brazil have shown that shaking ultracold Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) can cause them to either divide into uniform segments or shatter into unpredictable splinters, depending ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.

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.