Gene of the Month – February: TMEM120A/TACAN

The gene product of tmem120a in mice is involved in sensing mechanical pain. Canadian scientists report in Cell that they identified the protein as an ion channel with mechanosensitive properties, which they termed TACAN. Their studies in a mouse model showed that TACAN is expressed in a subset of nociceptors, i.e. receptors that are responsible for initiating the sensation of pain. Specific TACAN knockout in mice resulted in a decreased mechanosensitivity of nociceptors and in altered behavior to mechanical stimuli but not to thermal or touch stimuli.

Conversion of mechanical stimulus into electrochemical activity is a fundamental process underlying many physiological functions like touch and pain perception or hearing. What genes are involved in mechanical pain sensing, however, remained unclear. Activation of nociceptors is essential for pain perception, and various conditions of chronic pain like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are caused by sensitization of nociceptors to mechanical stimuli. According to the authors, the discovery of TACAN might therefore indicate a potential future target for treating chronic inflammatory pain.

Beaulieu-Laroche L, Christin M, Donoghue A, …, Sharif-Naeini R. TACAN Is an Ion Channel Involved in Sensing Mechanical Pain. Cell. 2020 Feb 17. pii: S0092-8674(20)30114-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.01.033. [Epub ahead of print]

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