Nociceptors: a phylogenetic view.


The ability to react to environmental change is crucial for the survival of an organism and an essential prerequisite is the capacity to detect and respond to aversive stimuli. The importance of having an inbuilt "detect and protect" system is illustrated by the fact that most animals have dedicated sensory afferents which respond to noxious stimuli called nociceptors. Should injury occur there is often sensitization, whereby increased nociceptor sensitivity and/or plasticity of nociceptor-related neural circuits acts as a protection mechanism for the afflicted body part. Studying nociception and nociceptors in different model organisms has demonstrated that there are similarities from invertebrates right through to humans. The development of technology to genetically manipulate organisms, especially mice, has led to an understanding of some of the key molecular players in nociceptor function. This review will focus on what is known about nociceptors throughout the Animalia kingdom and what similarities exist across phyla; especially at the molecular level of ion channels.