It’s not common that researchers discover what could be an entirely new part of the human body. But a team in Sweden claims to have uncovered an intricate network of cells underneath skin that helps process certain kinds of pain. The find could broaden our conceptions of how we feel pain, as well as how to relieve it.
The authors of the new study, published [August 15] in Science, say they were studying [nerve] cells near the skin’s surface in the lab when they came across something strange—some of the Schwann cells seemed to form an extensive “mesh-like network” with their nerve cells, differently than how they interact with nerve cells elsewhere. When they ran further experiments with mice, they found evidence that these Schwann cells play a direct, added role in pain perception, or nociception.
Because these cells are spread throughout the skin as an intricately connected system, the authors argue that the system should be considered an organ.
“Our study shows that sensitivity to pain does not occur only in the skin’s nerve [fibers], but also in this recently discovered pain-sensitive organ,” said senior study author Patrik Ernfors.
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