Stopping the pain with wasabi (receptors)
So I’ve never found wasabi to be a painful experience. Intense maybe, but never something I associated with pain. However, the delicious green horse-radish, famously put on sushi (and peas?), triggers a specific pain receptor tightly enough to be its namesake— the wasabi TRPA1 receptor. And now, thanks to single particle electron cryomicroscopy, we know what that receptor looks like down to the placement of each molecule.
More than just sushi-garnish
The motivation for this is not, sadly, to build better wasabi for our sushi. The receptor plays a role in a number of less pleasant pain experiences, such as exposure to tear gas or pollution from cars. Of even more immediate concern, the receptor is also the trigger for pain for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as chronic itching. Drug companies would like to be able to treat the discomfort and pain from those conditions better, which is where this new map of the wasabi TRPA1 receptor will be of use.
Imagine a door you’d like to open, but you can’t really make out the keyhole. You can probably force it open, but with significant collateral damage to the frame and door itself. This is what happens when medicines can’t be targeted enough— you end up with more side effects even if you manage to accomplish your primary goal of squelching pain or stopping a bacterium. But if you can see the keyhole clearly enough, as they can now do with wasabi TRPA1, you can design a key that opens the door and affects nothing else.
But if anyone designs something that blocks only wasabi, I think we’ll have a problem.
Source: Sushi Science: A 3-D View Of The Body's Wasabi Receptor by Jon Hamilton, Shots