Alternative in vitro assays to assess the potency of sensory irritants—Is one TRP channel enough?

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One important function of the peripheral nervous system is the detection of noxious chemicals in the environment as well as the recognition of tissue damage throughout the body. Transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels are able to sense a multitude of signaling factors involved in these processes. Via the sensory ganglia these sentinels convey information to the central nervous system, where perceptions of nociception or sensory irritation are generated. From the 28 members of the 6 subfamilies present in mammals, researchers in toxicology paid special attention to TRPA1 and TRPV1 channels. Various xenobiotics (e.g., acrolein, formaldehyde) can open these channels causing sensory irritations and defense mechanisms like sneezing, coughing and lacrimation. Heterologous expression of these two channels and the subsequent investigation of ion fluxes have been proposed as in vitro models for the assessment of sensory irritation. In a series of experiments using acetophenone, isophorone, and 2-ethylhexanol (2-EH) we investigated the effects of these irritants on heterologously expressed TRP channels in comparison to a primary cell culture of trigeminal ganglia neurons of mice. We confirmed acetophenone as a specific TRPA1 agonist that activates the receptor in concentrations >3 mM, whereas isophorone specifically activates TRPV1 in concentrations >100 μM. 2-EH can activate heterologously expressed TRPA1 concentration-dependently (1 mM–10 mM). In Ca2+ imaging we observed 2-EH as an agonist of multiple channels (TRPA1, TRPV1, GPCRs) that activates the trigeminal neurons by application of μM 2-EH concentrations. The convergent results of our experiments further support the specificity of acetophenone and isophorone to activate only one of these investigated TRP channels and a more unspecific activation in the case of 2-EH. However, the results of the two different in vitro systems also showed that both TRPA1 and TRPV1 channel activation is important for the perception of irritants and only the combined and tiered testing might lead to precise estimates describing the potency of a xenobiotic to cause sensory irritation or pain.

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