Indexed on: 21 Dec '07Published on: 21 Dec '07Published in: The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Sensory nerves detect an extensive array of somatosensory stimuli, including environmental temperatures. Despite activating only a small cohort of sensory neurons, cold temperatures generate a variety of distinct sensations that range from pleasantly cool to painfully aching, prickling, and burning. Psychophysical and functional data show that cold responses are mediated by both C- and A delta-fibers with separate peripheral receptive zones, each of which likely provides one or more of these distinct cold sensations. With this diversity in the neural basis for cold, it is remarkable that the majority of cold responses in vivo are dependent on the cold and menthol receptor transient receptor potential melastatin 8 (TRPM8). TRPM8-null mice are deficient in temperature discrimination, detection of noxious cold temperatures, injury-evoked hypersensitivity to cold, and nocifensive responses to cooling compounds. To determine how TRPM8 plays such a critical yet diverse role in cold signaling, we generated mice expressing a genetically encoded axonal tracer in TRPM8 neurons. Based on tracer expression, we show that TRPM8 neurons bear the neurochemical hallmarks of both C- and A delta-fibers, and presumptive nociceptors and non-nociceptors. More strikingly, TRPM8 axons diffusely innervate the skin and oral cavity, terminating in peripheral zones that contain nerve endings mediating distinct perceptions of innocuous cool, noxious cold, and first- and second-cold pain. These results further demonstrate that the peripheral neural circuitry of cold sensing is cellularly and anatomically complex, yet suggests that cold fibers, caused by the diverse neuronal context of TRPM8 expression, use a single molecular sensor to convey a wide range of cold sensations.