The proper detection of environmental temperatures is essential for the optimal growth and survival of organisms of all shapes and phyla, yet only recently have the molecular mechanisms for temperature sensing been elucidated. The discovery of temperature-sensitive ion channels of the transient receptor potential (TRP) superfamily has been pivotal in explaining how temperatures are sensed in vivo, and here we will focus on the lone member of this cohort, TRPM8, which has been unequivocally shown to be cold sensitive. TRPM8 is expressed in somatosensory neurons that innervate peripheral tissues such as the skin and oral cavity, and recent genetic evidence has shown it to be the principal transducer of cool and cold stimuli. It is remarkable that this one channel, unlike other thermosensitive TRP channels, is associated with both innocuous and noxious temperature transduction, as well as cold hypersensitivity during injury and, paradoxically, cold-mediated analgesia. With ongoing research, the field is getting closer to answering a number of fundamental questions regarding this channel, including the cellular mechanisms of TRPM8 modulation, the molecular context of TRPM8 expression, as well as the full extent of the role of TRPM8 in cold signaling in vivo. These findings will further our understanding of basic thermotransduction and sensory coding, and may have important implications for treatments for acute and chronic pain.
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