Indexed on: 11 Jul '12Published on: 11 Jul '12Published in: PNAS
Different types of neurons diverge in function because they express their own unique set or constellation of signaling molecules, including receptors and ion channels that work in concert. We describe an approach to identify functionally divergent neurons within a large, heterogeneous neuronal population while simultaneously investigating specific isoforms of signaling molecules expressed in each. In this study we characterized two subclasses of menthol-sensitive neurons from cultures of dissociated mouse dorsal-root ganglia. Although these neurons represent a small fraction of the dorsal-root ganglia neuronal population, we were able to identify them and investigate the cell-specific constellations of ion channels and receptors functionally expressed in each subclass, using a panel of selective pharmacological tools. Differences were found in the functional expression of ATP receptors, TRPA1 channels, voltage-gated calcium-, potassium-, and sodium channels, and responses to physiologically relevant cold temperatures. Furthermore, the cell-specific responses to various stimuli could be altered through pharmacological interventions targeted to the cell-specific constellation of ion channels expressed in each menthol-sensitive subclass. In fact, the normal responses to cold temperature could be reversed in the two neuronal subclasses by the coapplication of the appropriate combination of pharmacological agents. This result suggests that the functionally integrated constellation of signaling molecules in a particular type of cell is a more appropriate target for effective pharmacological intervention than a single signaling molecule. This shift from molecular to cellular targets has important implications for basic research and drug discovery. We refer to this paradigm as "constellation pharmacology."