Natural Selection and Pain Meet at a Sodium Channel

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Science  25 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6157, pp. 428-429
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244375

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In the animal kingdom, extreme conditions drive adaptive change to enable species to live in and exploit challenging environments. Nociceptors—sensory fibers activated by noxious stimuli to signal pain—enable animals to detect and avoid potentially harmful stimuli, presumably because such stimuli lead to the experience of pain. Variation in pain sensitivity has not traditionally been considered as a trait that is selected for, or against, in the race to adapt to new environments. On page 441 of this issue, Rowe et al. show that evolutionary change in a voltagegated sodium channel (Nav) drives resistance to painful neurotoxins that enables grasshopper mice (Onychomys torridus) in the Arizona desert to prey on an otherwise inaccessible food source, namely bark scorpions (Centruroides sculpturatus) (1).