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Papers of the Week

Papers: 26 Aug 2023 - 1 Sep 2023

Basic Science

In Silico Studies, In Vitro Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology

2023 Sep 05

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A




Editor's Pick

A suicidal mechanism for the exquisite temperature sensitivity of TRPV1.


Mugo A, Chou R, Chin F, Liu B, Jiang QX, Qin F


The vanilloid receptor TRPV1 is an exquisite nociceptive sensor of noxious heat, but its temperature-sensing mechanism is yet to define. Thermodynamics dictate that this channel must undergo an unusually energetic allosteric transition. Thus, it is of fundamental importance to measure directly the energetics of this transition in order to properly decipher its temperature-sensing mechanism. Previously, using submillisecond temperature jumps and patch-clamp recording, we estimated that the heat activation for TRPV1 opening incurs an enthalpy change on the order of 100 kcal/mol. Although this energy is on a scale unparalleled by other known biological receptors, the generally imperfect allosteric coupling in proteins implies that the actual amount of heat uptake driving the TRPV1 transition could be much larger. In this paper, we apply differential scanning calorimetry to directly monitor the heat flow in TRPV1 that accompanies its temperature-induced conformational transition. Our measurements show that heat invokes robust, complex thermal transitions in TRPV1 that include both channel opening and a partial protein unfolding transition and that these two processes are inherently coupled. Our findings support that irreversible protein unfolding, which is generally thought to be destructive to physiological function, is essential to TRPV1 thermal transduction and, possibly, to other strongly temperature-dependent processes in biology.