Controlling body temperature is a matter of life or death for most animals, and in mammals the complex thermoregulatory system is comprised of thermoreceptors, thermosensors, and effectors. The activity of thermoreceptors and thermoeffectors has been studied for many years, yet only recently have we begun to obtain a clear picture of the thermosensors and the molecular mechanisms involved in thermosensory reception. An important step in this direction was the discovery of the thermosensitive transient receptor potential (TRP) cationic channels, some of which are activated by increases in temperature and others by a drop in temperature, potentially converting the cells in which they are expressed into heat and cold receptors. More recently, the TWIK-related potassium (TREK) channels were seen to be strongly activated by increases in temperature. Hence, in this review we want to assess the hypothesis that both these groups of channels can collaborate, possibly along with other channels, to generate the wide range of thermal sensations that the nervous system is capable of handling.
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