Transient receptor potential (TRP) channels are a diverse family of polymodally gated nonselective cation channels implicated in a variety of pathophysiologies. Two channels of specific interest are transient receptor potential melastatin 8 (TRPM8) and transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1).
TRPM8 is the primary cold sensor in humans and is activated by ligands that feel cool such as menthol and icilin. It is implicated to be involved in a variety of cancers, nociception, obesity, addiction, and thermosensitivity. There are thought to be conserved regions of structural and functional importance to the channel which can be identified by looking at the evolution of TRPM8 over time. Along with this, looking at different isoforms of TRPM8 which are structurally very different but functionally similar can help isolate regions of functional interest as well. Between TRP channels, the transmembrane domain is well conserved and thought to be important for sensory physiology. To learn about these aspects of TRPM8, three evolutionary constructs, the last common primate, the last common mammalian, and the last common vertebrate ancestor TRPM8 were cloned and subjected to preliminary studies. In addition to the initial ancestral TRPM8 studies, fundamental studies were initiated in method development to evaluate the use of biological signaling sequences to attempt to force non-trafficking membrane protein isoforms and biophysical constructs to the plasma membrane. To increase readout for these and other studies, a cellular based fluorescence assay was initiated. Eventual completion of these efforts will lead to better understanding of the mechanism that underlie TRPM8 function and provide enhanced general methods for ion channel studies.
Beyond TRPM8 studies, an experiment was designed to probe mechanistic features of TRPV1 ligand activation. TRPV1 is also a thermosensitive channel in the TRP family, sensing heat and vanilloid ligands like capsaicin, commonly found in chili peppers. This channel is also involved in many proinflammatory interactions and associated with cancers, nociception, and addiction. Better understanding binding interactions can lead to attempts to create therapeutics.