Researchers in America say they have discovered the ‘intuition’ gene , which goes beyond the basic five senses of taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing.
The discovery was made with the help of two young patients with a rare genetic neurological disorder who have a mutation in the ‘Piezo2’ gene affecting their body awareness.
A.K.A Body awareness, proprioception is our sixth sense which is linked to the body’s sense of touch and its ability to perform coordinated movements.
It’s a sense your brain uses to understand where your body is in space. When police ask a drunken person to touch their finger to the tip of their nose, they’re testing the sense of proprioception.
A new study suggests that the sense of proprioception may have a genetic basis.
The findings suggest that the patients who carry the mutations in the PIEZO2 gene are “touch-blind,”
Alexander Chesler, a principal investigator at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and one of the lead authors of the study, says: “The patient’s version of [the gene] PIEZO2 may not work, so their neurons cannot detect touch or limb movements.”
Healthy individuals rely on the sense to perform a variety of tasks like playing the piano, shifting gears in a car, or typing on a keyboard, another lead author of the study, pediatric neurologist Carsten Bönnemann explains. Doing these things requires awareness of one’s limbs in space. The patients lacked this instinctual awareness, but were able to largely compensate for it by watching their limbs.
While the pair could still feel pain, itch, temperature and gentle brushing, they were insensitive to certain kinds of touch.
The results establish Piezo2 is a touch and proprioception gene in humans.
Chesler says he is confident the results shed light on the gene’s role in the general population. “It’s all consistent with what we’ve seen in the animal models, and it just makes sense.”
How PIEZO2 might relate to the patients’ skeletal deformities is less clear. One possibility is that the proteins controlled by the gene play a key, as-yet unknown, role in development. Another, Chesler and Bönnemann note, is that proprioception itself might be necessary for normal skeletal development. Without it, the body can’t hold a straight posture or orient its joints correctly, which could lead to abnormal skeletal development over time.
Dr. Bonnemann: “What’s remarkable about these patients is how much their nervous systems compensate for their lack of touch and body awareness.”
Researchers believe that the study highlights the critical importance of Piezo2 and the senses it controls in our daily lives.
Understanding its role in these senses may provide clues to a variety of neurological disorders.