Essentially all organisms sense forces in their internal and external environments, ranging from response to osmotic shock in bacteria to the detection of the softest touch on human skin. Although the mechanosensation might be the most ancient among our five senses, surprisingly it appears to be the most difficult to study on the level of its transduction mechanism.
The light-transducing molecule rhodopsin has been known for 130 years and olfactory receptors were discovered 18 years ago, but the molecules that convert physical forces to electrical signal in mammals still remain unknown. Our research focuses on elucidating the transduction mechanism in mammals and identifying the transduction components based on C.elegans mec genes found in a genetic screen for touch insensitive mutants. One particular interest in the future is to explore how these transduction components are altered during neuropathic or chronic pain.