We propose a new mechanism of sensory modulation through cutaneous dopaminergic signalling. We hypothesize that dopaminergic signalling contributes to differential cutaneous sensitivity in darker versus lighter pigmented humans and mouse strains. We show that thermal and mechanical cutaneous sensitivity is pigmentation dependent. Meta-analyses in humans and mice, along with our own mouse behavioural studies, reveal higher thermal sensitivity in pigmented skin relative to less-pigmented or albino skin. We show that dopamine from melanocytes activates the D1-like dopamine receptor on primary sensory neurons. Dopaminergic activation increases expression of the heat-sensitive TRPV1 ion channel and reduces expression of the mechanically-sensitive Piezo2 channel; thermal threshold is lower and mechanical threshold is higher in pigmented skin.
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