At a glance:
Anyone who’s taken a bite of a sandwich with too much spicy mustard or a piece of sushi with too much wasabi can attest to the tear-inducing sensation these condiments can cause. These loud warnings to the nervous system of exposure to potentially harmful chemicals are triggered by TRPA1, a calcium channel protein sometimes referred to as the “wasabi receptor.”
Found primarily in sensory neurons, TRPA1 is a sensor for environmental irritants and has been widely studied for its roles in detecting sensations such as pain and cold, and in airway inflammation conditions such as asthma.
Certain cancers express unusually high levels of TRPA1, particularly lung and breast cancers, but why they do so has thus far remained unclear.
Now, in a new study published online in Cancer Cell on May 24, Harvard Medical School researchers show that tumor cells use TRPA1 as a unique defense mechanism against reactive oxygen species (ROS), toxic byproducts of cell metabolism.
“This was quite an unexpected finding. Tumor cells appear to have co-opted this neural protein channel, which is associated with multiple types of cancer, to protect themselves against oxidative stress,” said senior study author Joan Brugge, the Louise Foote Pfeiffer Professor of Cell Biology at
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