Adapting to the Heat: Craig Montell’s group uncovers the molecular mechanism that regulates an animal’s ability to sense the rate of temperature change

Oct 18, 2016

In classic experiments on frogs, scientists found that the amphibians’ urge to escape from dangerously hot water decreased significantly when the water temperature rose very gradually. In fact, sensitivity of many animals to temperature — including humans — is similarly affected by the rate of increase. Hoping to shed light on this phenomenon, MCDB professor Craig Montell and graduate students Junjie Luo and Wei Shen developed fruit fly larvae as a model to reveal a mechanism through which the animal shows different behavioral responses to fast and slow rises in temperature. The researchers discovered that a rapid temperature change caused a writhing response in fruit fly larvae. However, when the temperature was raised gradually, far fewer animals reacted. Montell and coworkers then demonstrated that the activation of the temperature sensor in the brain, TRPA1, was not simply a function of the absolute temperature but rather depended on the rate of temperature change.

The team’s findings appear in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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