PerspectiveNeuroscience

Glia in the skin activate pain responses

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Science  16 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6454, pp. 641-642
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay6144

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Summary

The ability to rapidly perceive and react to damaging stimuli is essential for survival. In the vertebrate nervous system, specialized neural crest–derived sensory neurons in the skin, called nociceptors, detect and send signals to the brain after potentially harmful encounters. The cell bodies and axons of these nociceptors are associated with glia, non-neuronal cells that perform myriad functions in the nervous system. However, it has been a long-standing belief that nociceptors lose glial ensheathment when they cross the basement membrane into the epidermis, leaving only the free endings of unmyelinated axons as nociceptive sensors (1). On page 695 of this issue, Abdo et al. (2) provide evidence of a previously unrecognized specialized glial cell type, called nociceptive Schwann cells, that in direct association with nociceptive fibers project into the epidermis, where they initiate the sensation of pain. This discovery may offer new insights into future treatments for chronic pain.

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