• Recently, two United States-based scientists, David Julius and ArdemPatapoutian, have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.
  • They have focused their work on the field of somatosensation, that is the ability of specialised organs such as eyes, ears and skin to see, hear and feel.

Important points:

David Julius:

  • He discovered TRPV1, a heat-sensing receptor.
  • His findings on the skin’s sense of temperature was based on how certain cells react to capsaicin, the molecule that makes chili peppers spicy, by simulating a false sensation of heat.


  • He discovered two mechanosensitive ion channels known as the Piezo channels.
  • The Piezo1 is named after the Greek word for pressure, ‘píesi’.
  • He is credited for finding the cellular mechanism and the underlying gene that translates a mechanical force on our skin into an electric nerve signal.


  • The findings have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us.
  • This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain.
  • Somatosensation is a collective term for the sensations of touch, temperature, body position, and pain recognized through neural receptors in the skin and certain internal organs.
  • It includes processes such as” mechanoreception, thermoreception, proprioception.
  • Mechanosensitive channels are fascinating proteins, being able to serve both as sensors and effectors.
  • Embedded in membranes, they convert mechanical stimuli such as in-plane membrane tension and curvature into electrical or biochemical signals, leading to regulation of a wide repertoire of cellular processes allowing adaptive response.


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