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Cooling Menthol

January 3, 2008

How menthol and the ability to sense cold are genetically linked.


The cooling effects of menthol. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Ever wonder why chewing into a piece of spearmint gum gives you that cool sensation? It’s caused by menthol, a pungent substance derived from plants of the mint family. And according to neurobiologist Diana Bautista, of the University of California at San Francisco, the same sensory receptor that binds to menthol is essential to our ability to sense cold. She says that mice lacking the gene for the menthol receptor, called TRPM8, can’t tell hot from cold.

DIANA BAUTISTA (University of California, San Francisco):
We know from our studies that mice lacking this channel have no preference in temperature over a wide range.

She says that unlike normal mice, these mice can’t distinguish between comfortable and uncomfortable temperatures, which could affect their health. Because humans also have the TRPM8 menthol receptor, our sensitivity to cold may also be dependent on it. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.