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April 12, 2015

Wasabi could help lead the way to new pain medications

Health News Pain
041215_wasabi University of California, San Francisco/YouTube

A structural model of the TRPA1 receptor.

Wasabi is most often used to give sushi an extra pungent kick, but new research on the condiment's physiological effects may soon help drug makers create pain medications that kick in with greater relief. 

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have modeled the structure of the receptor that gets activated when we eat wasabi, a protein called TRPA1 that resides in the cellular membrane of our sensory nerve cells. This receptor triggers protective mechanisms in our bodies by detecting internal and external chemical agents.
“We’ve known that TRPA1 is very important in sensing environmental irritants, inflammatory pain, and itch, and so knowing more about how TRPA1 works is important for understanding basic pain mechanisms," said Dr. David Julius, professor and chair of the UCSF physiology department. "Of course, this information may also help guide the design of new analgesic drugs.”
A detailed structure of the protein aids experimentation in drug delivery by enabling researchers to methodically locate the exact points where drugs will bind with TRPA1. To develop their model, the UCSF team used an imaging technique called electron cryo-microscopy,  which involves the instantaneous freezing of proteins before the water solution can form crystals.
With many copies of the proteins suspended in this glassy ice, like insects trapped in amber, the researchers capture as many as 100,000 images, then computationally combine these thousands of two-dimensional views to generate the three-dimensional structure of the protein.
The UCSF findings, published in the journal Nature on April 8, can now be used to spur progress in the current development of experimental drugs for chronic pain. 

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