Pew Scholar Maps Structure of the 'Wasabi Receptor'

David Julius, a 1990 Pew scholar in the biomedical sciences and professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Yifan Cheng, a biochemist at UCSF,  are using 3-D imaging to take a closer look at receptors that perceive pain that Julius identified a decade ago. The TRPA1 receptor is activated in response to chemical irritants such as tear gas, car fumes, or even wasabi. But without a complete understanding of the receptor’s structure, Julius could not identify the ways the receptor translates that response into pain (or the  pungent sensation we get when we eat sushi with wasabi).

Recent advances in 3-D imaging technology allowed Julius to overcome this obstacle. "The big advance here is that we can actually see the structure of the molecule—we can see the atoms in the molecule," he told NPR. This opens the field for drugs that target the specific channels and pathways within the TRPA1 receptor in order to block pain. The findings, described in an NPR story, could help pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to combat pain and itching.

Diana Bautista, a 2009 Pew scholar, has found evidence that TRPA1 receptors also transmit signals associated with chronic itching, which affects about 10 percent of people worldwide. Drugs that target the “wasabi receptor” could bring relief for chronic itch, with fewer side effects than those caused by the limited number of treatments currently available.   

Read Julius’ paper in this week’s Nature to learn more.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.