The five senses we use to perceive our environment are hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. David Julius discovered molecular mechanisms by which the sense of touch allows us to perceive pain and temperature.
The ability to detect painful stimuli is essential to our health and survival as it allows us to avoid direct contact with agents that can produce injury. Following injury, the skin becomes hypersensitive and even light touches or warm temperatures can be painful. This hypersensitivity has the positive function of protecting the skin from further injury. However, it sometimes has a negative outcome, causing the development of chronic pain syndromes that can be physiologically and psychologically devastating. In pioneering studies conducted over the past fifteen years, David Julius and his coworkers have uncovered mechanisms by which we sense pain and temperature as well as mechanisms that underlie pain hypersensitivity. His work has provided insights into fundamental mechanisms underlying the sense of touch and opened the door to rational drug design for the treatment of chronic pain syndromes.