Decade-long Search for Mechanical Pain Sensor Ends – May Lead to New Meds

Decade-long Search for Mechanical Pain Sensor Ends - May Lead to New Meds

Researchers have discovered that a protein found in the membrane of our sensory neurons are involved in our capacity to feel mechanical pain, laying the foundation for the development of powerful new analgesic drugs.

The study, published in Cell, is the first to show that TACAN, a highly conserved protein among whose function remained unclear, is in fact involved in detecting mechanical pain by converting mechanical pressures into electric signals.

Using molecular and cellular approaches with electrophysiology, Reza Sharif-Naeini, a professor in McGill University’s Department of Physiology, and his team were able to establish that TACAN is found on the membrane of pain sensing cells where it forms tunnel like pores, a structure known as an ion channel.

The researchers also created a mouse model where TACAN could be “turned off,” making the animals significantly less sensitive to painful mechanical stimuli.

“This demonstrates that TACAN contributes to sensing mechanical pain,” says Sharif-Naeini, who is also the study’s senior author.

About 70 years ago, scientists imagined that tiny sensors might be responsible for providing our brain with useful information about our environment, explaining our sense of touch or our capacity to feel pain when pinched.

These sensors have since been discovered to be ion channels - pore like structures capable of translating mechanical pressures exerted on a cell into electrical signals that travel to the brain to be processed - a phenomenon known as mechanotransduction.

This phenomenon has been shown to be central in several physiological processes such as hearing, touch and the sensation of thirst. But the identity of the sensor responsible for mechanical pain remained elusive.

Because “most of the pain we feel - a pinch or a stubbed toe - is mechanical in nature,” Sharif-Naeini said that competition to find the newly discovered sensor was fierce.

With the current narrative of opioid overuse, the finding may have practical implications for people who suffer from chronic pain. Patients with conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or neuropathic pain often develop mechanical allodynia, a condition where mechanical pain receptors become overly sensitive. Trivial things such as walking or a light touch thus become extremely painful, leading to a significant reduction in the quality of their lives.

“Now that we have identified the sensor associated with mechanical pain, we can start designing new powerful analgesic drugs that can block its action. This discovery is really exciting and brings new hope for novel pain treatment,” adds Sharif-Naeini.

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Authored by: Staff

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I read the comments and I have found nearly all of the things said have occurred to me, I agree with almost all of the comments. It so sad that they feel people who are as perceptive as those who commented are some kind of threat to the rest of society. We need real leadership who does not kowtow to what has become our biggest national epidemic.


PTL!!! If they can come up with something to relive my pain, I’m all for it…..

They have known for years that INFLAMMATION is the Link to ALL DIEASES! Yet why have they not research why a cell leaks or how much a cell holds. Why is Standford, Cambridge, Havard & Canada way ahead in research as of today then the US. Yet there are no cures for inflammation only band-aides. Some inflammation shows up in the blood & some show up in the tissues. Yet doctor can’t tell us why we still have inflammation or cronic pain!

Annette Merkley

Every so often I see an article such as that hints that progress is still ongoing for the treatment of the terrible constant pain that folks with CRPS and other chronic pain diseases suffer from. It renews my hope but I’m 73, so time is getting short for me to see a cure finally discovered that will give my daughter back her life ..that’s pretty much all I live for. Keep working for a cure please!

Excuse me, but is this not what opioids already do as well? I’m all for researching new cures to all kinds of things. My question is how many years will this take? How many more have to lose their lives because they can’t stand to live in constant debilitating pain? How many years is it going to take to create a brand new medicine? If they ever do, how long is it going to be before they ban it?


Fascinating and encouraging.
It will truly be a wonderful day when all the pieces of this puzzle are discovered then are made available for the masses and chronic pain finally meets it match.
Keep up the great job
Thank you for your efforts.

Debbie Nickels Heck, MD

It makes sense as an explanation for chronic pain. If something is overstimulated or overused, it makes sense changes in structure would occur on a microscopic level to compensate for the constant damage that’s occurring to cope with the recurring assualt that’s causing pain in an attempt to reduce it. Endorphins are known to kick in to try to relieve pain to some extent. As drugs are taken, they work with the body and a synergistic effect results. Finding that right balance has been the goal.

So they say they want to design powerful pain analgesics? That will be years away and will not benefit people who suffer chronic pain today. By the time they do get these medications on the market they will be banned right before they are released. It is all a game and we do not believe any of it any more. We have been abused and tortured for no good reason. It is a human rights violation. You do not torture a segment of the population to try to fix another problem(overdoses). We had a medication that helped us , called opioids and they were taken from us. We were left with no pain relief that worked and forced into procedures and surgeries that most often do not work. We would rather you let us have the medication that did help us and keep your research to yourself.

How exciting & promising. If those signals could be interrupted without opioid that would be very good. If we could only keep the opiods that do work till these type of pain relievers could be developed & released….



Maureen M.

Interesting article but as a many year Chronic Pain Warrior I don’t quite understand what ‘mechanical’ pain exactly is?
Can anybody explain? thank you!

Thomas Wayne Kidd

This is most foolish to ever even think of turning off our ability to sense pain. It is there for a very good reason to sound an alarm that something is wrong. Human beings are not and never can be thought of as just a mechanical thing. This is very dangerous to say the least. But when most of the human race believe that we are just a higher form of animal this is the result.

Cindy too

Message for Ellen Lenox Smith -

I get emails from Practical Pain Management, a fantastic journal for the pain community.
In case you don’t, today’s PPM email was mostly about a new documentary film about your EDS — the film maker has EDS and the film is about that, and other chronic pain problems.

Here’s the link:

Here’s a quote from the article:

“Karina Ulrike Sturm was tired of being unheard and unseen. Her film, We Are Visible, features her own struggles of living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome as well as the struggles of individuals fighting pain stigma around the world.”

I hope that Ed or other NPR staff will send this info to Ellen.