Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have discovered a new sensory organ that can detect painful mechanical damage, such as punctures and impacts. The discovery is published in the journal Science.
This study explains how the new pain-sensitive organ is, in what way it is organized along with the pain-sensitive nerves in the skin and how the activation of the organ produces electrical impulses in the nervous system that produce reflex reactions and experience of pain.
Pain sensitivity is also necessary for survival and has a protective function. It creates reflex reactions which prevent harm to the tissue, such as moving your hand away when you feel a prick of a sharp object or when it burns. Now, researchers at the Karolinska Institute have discovered a new sensory organ in the skin that is sensitive to dangerous environmental irritation. It consists of glial cells with multiple long bumps and collectively forming an organ similar to a mesh inside the skin.
The cells that make up the organ are very sensitive to mechanical stimuli, which explain how they can participate in the detection of painful punctures and pressure. In the experiments, the researchers also blocked the organ and noticed a decrease in the ability to feel mechanical pain. As explained by Patrik Ernfors, professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Medical Biophysics of the Karolinska Institute and principal investigator of the study:
Our study shows that pain sensitivity occurs not only in the nerve fibers of the skin but also in this newly discovered pain-sensitive organ. The discovery changes our understanding of the cellular mechanisms of physical sensation and may be important in the understanding of chronic pain.