Control of peripheral somatosensory neuron excitability
Mammalian somatosensory system is a bodily apparatus for perceiving and analyzing mechanical, thermal and chemical stimuli from the environment and viscera. Together with other senses, somatosensation is crucial for life as it feeds into and supports one’s momentary concept of the reality. Somatosensory system also serves another important function – it warns about imminent tissue damage (a sensation known as pain). Peripheral part of the somatosensory system consists of peripheral sensory neurons with cell bodies residing within the specific ganglia (e.g. dorsal root or trigeminal ganglia) and very long axons spreading throughout the body within sensory fibres. Peripheral terminals of these axons form nerve endings in the skin and viscera while central terminals synapse within the dorsal roots of the spinal cord where the signals from the periphery are conveyed to the higher brain centers. Electrical excitation of peripheral terminals of sensory neurons by mechanical, thermal or chemical stimuli is a primary event in somatosensation (including pain). This excitation, action potential generation and propagation along the afferent fibre and, finally, the release of neurotransmitters at the first synapse in the spinal cord depends on the concerted action of the ion channels expressed within the plasma membrane of the sensory fibres.
Accordingly, growing evidence suggest that dysfunctions or deregulations of the activity and expression of ion channels (channelopathies) within sensory fibres often result in severe health problems such as various acute and chronic pains (or, inversely, insensitivity to pain which is equally catastrophic) and other disturbances of somatic sensations. Last decades seen an explosion in our understanding of peripheral somatosensory signalling and the control over sensory neuron excitability, nevertheless, the complete picture is still elusive; in addition, current therapeutic strategies to tackle pains and other somatosensory health problems are still rather coarse and prone to side effects (including tolerance and dependence). This Research Topic of Frontiers in Neuroscience is focused on the current advances in understanding of the mechanisms controlling excitability, action potential propagation and synaptic release in peripheral somatosensory neurons (including, but not limited to, nociceptors).
We also would like to discuss emerging approaches, methods and techniques in somatosensory physiology.
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