Maki de Sade: wasabi really hurts!

For pain researchers, the recent discovery of a neuronal receptor that relays the zip of wasabi holds more than gastronomic interest: the sinus-clearing kick of the Japanese condiment registers not on the taste buds, but in pain-sensing nerve cells in the nose.

According to Assistant Professor of Pharmacology Sven-Eric Jordt, Ph.D., and collaborators, the newly identified receptor is also key to garlic’s bite, and to the toxic and inflammatory effects of many environmental irritants.

As reported in the March 24 issue of Cell, mice lacking the TRPA1 receptor experience little pain or irritation when mustard oil, the pungent ingredient in wasabi and mustard, is applied to their paws. Neurons in these mice also failed to respond to the main irritant found in tear gas, wood smoke and car exhaust, and the animals were less sensitive to some types of inflammatory pain.

Jordt says that finding ways to shut down the TRPA1 receptor in people could yield much-needed new pain therapies for injuries and diseases from arthritis to cancer, and that manipulating the receptor might also help pollution-related diseases like asthma and chronic cough.


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