28 December 2011

Symposium announcement: Nociceptors in the real world

I’m pleased to announce a symposium that I am co-organizing for next year’s International Congress of Neuroethology at the University of Maryland.

It’s titled “Nociceptors in the real world,” and my partners in crime are Ashlee Rowe (at the University of Texas in Austin) and Ewan St. John Smith (last heard in the Science podcast explaining his work on why naked mole rats don’t feel pain from acids; he’s soon moving to the U.S.).

The title is not a reference to a reality show, but is part of the rationale for holding the symposium. Because nociception is so closely related to pain, almost all the research on nociception is geared to alleviating human pain. And that means it’s almost all research on mice and rats, because those are the standard clinical models for that kind of research.

But nociception is a distinct sensory system on a par with vision, or touch, or taste. Nociception should be widespread across the animal kingdom, but we are only just starting to do research on them.

How diverse are nociceptors in what they respond to? What species have nociceptors triggered by heat? Acids? Chemicals like capsaicin, the stuff that makes chilies hot?

What is the ecological relevance of stimuli that trigger nociception in different species? For instance, trout nociceptors can be triggered by high temperatures (>40°C; Sneddon et al. 2003). But when would a trout encounter those sorts of temperatures?

I’m super excited about this symposium. It’s going to be a wonderful meeting of minds, and I hope it will help solidify the field and move it forward.

The official announcement went up today in the society’s November newsletter (PDF here). I’ll sneak in a bonus for you that isn’t in the newsletter, namely the kinds of organisms we’re planning on covering in the four main talks of the symposium.

  • Cephalopods!
  • Fruit flies!
  • Fishes!
  • Naked mole rats!

The meeting is 5-10 August 2012. Mark your calendars if you’re interested in nervous systems, animal behaviour, or evolution!


Sneddon LU, Braithwaite VA, Gentle MJ. 2003. Do fishes have nociceptors? Evidence for the evolution of a vertebrate sensory system. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 270(1520): 1115-1121. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2003.2349

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