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Gene for When to Go

A gene called PIEZO2 may help people determine when they need to seek a bathroom, according to a new study.

A Scripps Research Institute-led team sent questionnaires to a dozen individuals deficient in PIEZO2 that asked not only how often they generally need to urinate each day, but also about any accidents or other urination-linked issues. They had homed in on PIEZO2, which encodes proteins that are activated when stretched or squeezed, in a previous study.

"There were a lot of reasons to think that PIEZO2 could be important for urination. Theoretically, it made sense as it is a pressure sensor for other internal sensory processes," first author Kara Marshall, a postdoc at Scripps, says in a statement.

As they now report in Nature, she and her colleagues found that individuals deficient in PIEZO2 tend to urinate less frequently during the day and experience problems with the process of urination itself. Then in functional studies in mice, the researchers found PIEZO2 is expressed in lower urinary tract tissue, including bladder sensory neurons, and that mice lacking PIEZO2 also have impaired bladder control. This, the researchers wrote, indicates PIEZO2 is a key mechanosensor in urinary function.

"Our results show how the PIEZO2 gene tightly coordinates urination," co-author Alexander Chesler from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says in a statement. "This is a major advance in our understanding of interoception — or the sense of what's going inside our bodies."