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Molecular springs produce an animal's sense of touch and hearing

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Published on Oct 31, 2017

As senses go, there’s nothing so immediate and concrete as our sense of touch. From the tickle of a feather to the pain of a stubbed toe, our responses to pressure and pain dictate how we move through and react to the world around us. So it may come as a surprise that, on the molecular level, our sense of touch is still poorly understood.

Now, UC San Francisco scientists have mapped in exquisite detail a protein complex called NOMPC (pronounced “nomp-see”), that acts as a mechanoreceptor in animals from fruit flies to fish and frogs. The structure, reported June 26, 2017 in Nature, reveals a machine that depends on a quartet of tiny springs that tether the complex to the cell’s “skeleton” and react to its movement.

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