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The principle of temperature-dependent gating in cold- and heat-sensitive TRP channels


The mammalian sensory system is capable of discriminating thermal stimuli ranging from noxious cold to noxious heat. Principal temperature sensors belong to the TRP cation channel family, but the mechanisms underlying the marked temperature sensitivity of opening and closing (‘gating’) of these channels are unknown. Here we show that temperature sensing is tightly linked to voltage-dependent gating in the cold-sensitive channel TRPM8 and the heat-sensitive channel TRPV1. Both channels are activated upon depolarization, and changes in temperature result in graded shifts of their voltage-dependent activation curves. The chemical agonists menthol (TRPM8) and capsaicin (TRPV1) function as gating modifiers, shifting activation curves towards physiological membrane potentials. Kinetic analysis of gating at different temperatures indicates that temperature sensitivity in TRPM8 and TRPV1 arises from a tenfold difference in the activation energies associated with voltage-dependent opening and closing. Our results suggest a simple unifying principle that explains both cold and heat sensitivity in TRP channels.

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Figure 1: Outward rectification of TRPM8 is due to voltage-dependent gating.
Figure 2: Cooling activates TRPM8 by shifting the voltage dependence of activation.
Figure 3: Heating activates TRPV1 by shifting the voltage dependence of activation.
Figure 4: A two-state model accurately predicts the temperature-dependent behaviour of TRPM8 and TRPV1.
Figure 5: Menthol shifts the TRPM8 activation curve.
Figure 6: Capsaicin shifts the TRPV1 activation curve.


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We thank K. Talavera, G. Owsianik, J. Vriens, F. Mahieu and J. Prenen for helpful suggestions and criticisms, and C. Benham (GlaxoSmithKline) for providing us with the human TRPV1 clone. This work was supported by the Belgian Federal Government, the Flemish Government and the Onderzoeksraad KU Leuven. T.V. is a postdoctoral Fellow of the Fund for Scientific Research, Flanders (Belgium) (FWO-Vlaanderen).

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Correspondence to Thomas Voets.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure

This figure shows examples of the detailed kinetic analysis of current relaxations for TRPM8 and TRPV1 at different temperatures and voltages. (DOC 101 kb)

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Voets, T., Droogmans, G., Wissenbach, U. et al. The principle of temperature-dependent gating in cold- and heat-sensitive TRP channels. Nature 430, 748–754 (2004).

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