TRPM3 belongs to a family of channel proteins that allow sodium and calcium ions to enter cells by forming pores in cell membranes. TRPM3 is found on the cell membranes of nerve cells; when ions flow into the nerves through the TRPM3 pores it triggers an electrical impulse.
TRPM3 is responsible for helping us to detect heat, and mice without this protein find it difficult to sense painfully hot temperatures.
Mice lacking TRPM3 also respond to other kinds of pain differently. Normally, a mouse with an injured paw becomes more sensitive to warm and hot temperatures, but this does not happen in mice that do not have TRPM3.
G-protein Coupled Receptors
When activated, other proteins called G-protein coupled receptors (or GPCRs for short) can make some members of this family of channel proteins more or less likely to open their pore. This in turn increases or decreases the flow of ions through the pore, respectively.
Yet it was not clear if GPCRs also affect TRPM3 channels on the membranes of nerve cells.
Talisia Quallo, of the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases, King’s College London, and colleagues, have now discovered that “switching on” different GPCR proteins in sensory nerve cells from mice greatly reduces the flow of calcium ions though TRPM3 channels. The experiments made use of two pain-killing drugs, namely morphine and baclofen, and a molecule called neuropeptide Y to activate different GPCRs.
Activation of μ-opioid receptors inhibits TRPM3 Credit: Quallo, et al. Elife
G-protein Coupled Receptors interact with a group of small proteins called G-proteins that, when activated by the receptor, split into two subunits, known as the α subunit and the βγ subunit. Once detached these subunits are free to act as messengers and interact with other proteins in the cell membrane.
Chronic Pain Conditions
The researchers found that TRPM3 is one of a small group of proteins that interact with the βγ subunits of the G-protein, which can explain how “switching on” GPCRs reduces the activity of TRPM3. Two independent studies by Dembla, Behrendt et al. and Badheka, Yudin et al. also report similar findings.
There is currently a need to find more effective treatments for people suffering from long-term pain conditions and it has become clear that TRPM3 channels are involved in sensing both pain and temperature. These new findings show that drugs already used in the treatment of pain can dramatically change how TRPM3 works.
The results might help scientists to find drugs that work in a similar way to dial down the activity of TRPM3 and to combat pain. Though first it will be important to confirm these new findings in human nerve cells.