Science 3 min read

Researchers Discover New Pain-Processing Sensory Organ in the Skin

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Researchers in Sweden have found a new sensory organ that can process certain kinds of pain. And they’re calling it the nociceptive Schwann cells.

Not only can this finding change our perception of how we feel pain, but how we relieve it too.

Pain causes suffering, which in turn results in a substantial cost to society. In the United States, chronic pain is estimated to cost over half a trillion dollars annually in disability programs, medical expense, and lost productivity.

Aside from painkillers to relieve the hurt, health professionals believe that sensitivity to pain is even more critical. For example, it activates the reflex reaction that occurs when we burn ourselves or touch a sharp object.

Now scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have found a new pain organ in the skin that can detect mechanical damages. These include pricks and impacts.

In a release from the university, senior author of the study and pain researcher at Karolinska Institutet, Patrik Ernfors said:

“Our study shows that sensitivity to pain does not occur only in the skin’s nerve [fibers], but also in this recently discovered pain-sensitive organ.”

The researchers described how they found the sensory organ in their paper in the journal Science.

New Skin Sensory Organ

The researchers said that they were studying the Schwann cells near the surface of the skin when they noticed something strange. Some of the Schwann cells had formed an extensive mesh-like network with the nerve cells. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

The phenomenon piqued the researchers’ curiosity, and they decided to investigate. After running experiments on mice, the Swedish team noted that these Schwann cells contribute significantly to pain perception or nociception.

For example, an experiment involved breeding mice with these cells in their paws. Now here’s the exciting part — the cells in the mice’s paws were activated by light.

So, when the light came on, the mice started appeared to be in pain – either licking themselves or guarding their paws. Further experiments revealed the nature of the pain.

The researchers discovered that the cells, now called the nociceptive Schwann cells, are responsive to mechanical pain – the sensation that comes with being hit or pricked by something. However, the cell appears to be insensitive to heat or cold.

In an email to Gizmodo, Ernfors noted:

“We have not studied humans yet. However, considering that all previously known sensory organs found in mouse also exist in humans, it is possible if not likely that it does exist also in the human skin.”

Read More: Artificial Cells That can Sense Chemical Signals Created

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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