Thermally activated TRP channels: molecular sensors for temperature detection

Phys Biol. 2018 Jan 24;15(2):021001. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/aa9a6f.


Temperature sensing is one of the oldest capabilities of living organisms, and is essential for sustaining life, because failure to avoid extreme noxious temperatures can result in tissue damage or death. A subset of members of the transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channel family is finely tuned to detect temperatures ranging from extreme cold to noxious heat, giving rise to thermoTRP channels. Structural and functional experiments have shown that thermoTRP channels are allosteric proteins, containing different domains that sense changes in temperature, among other stimuli, triggering pore opening. Although temperature-dependence is well characterized in thermoTRP channels, the molecular nature of temperature-sensing elements remains unknown. Importantly, thermoTRP channels are involved in pain sensation, related to pathological conditions. Here, we provide an overview of thermoTRP channel activation. We also discuss the structural and functional evidence supporting the existence of an intrinsic temperature sensor in this class of channels, and we explore the basic thermodynamic principles for channel activation. Finally, we give a view of their role in painful pathophysiological conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Thermosensing / physiology*
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / physiology*


  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels