(ORDO NEWS) — New research reveals more about the complex molecular underpinnings of the sixth sense.
The genes responsible for the sixth sense (proprioception) are described in a new study in mice.
The sixth sense is the sense of the position of the body in space, on which our ability to perform coordinated movements depends.
Proprioception, unlike the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, is completely unconscious. We may not realize that we are doing this, but it is just as important as other feelings.
People without this ability are unable to perform coordinated movements, such as throwing a ball or head-hand coordination while eating or drinking.
“Its task is to collect information from the muscles and joints about our movements, our posture and our position in space, and then transmit it to our central nervous system,” said Niccolò Zampieri, head of the laboratory for the development and functioning of neural circuits from the Max Delbrück Center in Berlinev.
“This sense, known as proprioception, allows the central nervous system to send the right signals through motor neurons to the muscles so that we can perform a specific movement.”
Proprioception is mediated by a complex communication system involving neurons in muscles and joints that relay information about muscle stretch and tension back to proprioceptive sensory neurons (pSN) located in the dorsal root ganglia of the spinal cord. We know that this is facilitated by the long nerve fibers connecting them, but the molecular basis has so far been poorly understood.
The new study has identified the genes involved in the function of these pSNs in mice and has provided insight into the neural connections that enable proprioception.
The researchers found that the genes encoding ephrins and their receptors are of particular importance. These proteins play an important role in the developing nervous system, helping guide newly formed nerve fibers to their target.
The authors hope that their results will serve as a springboard for future research on proprioception, which could one day help patients with spinal cord injuries, for example.
“If we can better understand our sixth sense, then this will allow us to develop new treatments that effectively counteract these and other types of skeletal damage,” Zampieri concluded.
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