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Hot, Hot, Hot! Neuroscientists Turn off Ability to Feel Cold

Update Date: Feb 13, 2013 01:18 PM EST

Here's some hot news to warm you up while the snow thaws: neuroscientists at the University of Southern California have developed a way to turn off the ability to feel cold in mice.

According to USC News, the neuroscientists targeted a particular neuron channel, called TRPM8. Previous research had found a link between cold and the neuron, which contributes to neurons' response to cold temperatures and is a receptor for menthol, the cooling portion of mint.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the researchers were able to turn off the protein. By doing so, the mice were unable to feel the difference between warm and cold temperatures. They were able to test this by placing control mice and mice without the neuron on a surface with many temperatures, ranging from 32 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 50 degrees Celsius).

The control mice stuck to an area that was around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 degrees Celsius, avoiding both the extremely hot or cold areas. However, the genetically engineered mice avoided extremely hot areas, but were comfortable navigating extremely cold areas - even when it could have been extremely painful or dangerous.

Researchers eliminated the TRPM8 neurons by targeting them with a form of the bacteria that causes diphtheria, an infection that causes upper respiratory issues in humans. The bacteria was engineered to specifically attack the TRPM8 neurons.

Without these neurons, the mice were still able to respond to touch and perform coordinated movements.

However, don't get too excited: the applications of this development will not be used so that you can leave the house without a coat in the dead of winter - and it shouldn't. As researchers point out, feeling pain in the cold is a sign from your body that you should remove yourself from that environment. Instead, the science behind this ability will likely be used for pain treatments. Currently, pain treatments target inflammation, which is only behind certain pain, or numbs all sensation altogether, which is not always desired. The technology may also be used to help people with an extreme sensitivity to cold.

The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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