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Don't Touch

After getting a sunburn or similar injury even gently brushing up against a cotton T-shirt can be painful. Now as, the US National Institutes of Health notes, two different research teams have homed in on a gene that may be responsible for that effect.

A Scripps Research Institute-led team examined how loss of the PIEZO2 gene affected sensation in mice. PIEZO2, which is expressed by a subset of sensory neurons, has previously been linked to mechanical touch sensation. As they report in Science Translational Medicine, they found that mice lacking the gene had impaired pain response to mechanical stimuli. That effect held, they note, in mice with capsaicin-induced inflammation and nerve injury.

Meanwhile, researchers from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at NIH also report in Science Translational Medicine that humans with loss-of-function mutations in Piezo2 didn't develop sensitization and painful reactions to touch following skin inflammation. This, they note, implicated PIEZO2as a mediator of touch under inflammatory conditions.

"Most pain treatments numb large areas of the body," author Carsten Bönnemann from NCCIH says in a statement. "Our results suggest that if we could shut down PIEZO2 in the area of a wound, we would hopefully relieve the pain and speed recovery."