Whether stubbing a toe or stroking a cat, the sensation of touch starts out as a mechanical force that is then transformed into an electrical signal conveying pain or other sensations. Tiny channels in neurons act as translators by helping to formulate that signal to the brain. However, scientists know little about the fine details of how these channels work.
The TRAAK channel (purple and orange) dampens sensations by letting potassium ions escape from a neuron. Researchers found the channel uses a never-before-seen system for closing: A lipid (yellow) from the surrounding neuron membrane (gray) protrudes into the channel, blocking the flow of ions and shutting off the dampening signal.
Credit: Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology and Biophysics at The Rockefeller University