Your brain is keenly aware of what’s going on inside your body at all times. Some things are obvious – like when you feel hungry or thirsty. But some things you never notice – like how blood vessels all over your body simultaneously contract as you stand up, so you don’t lose blood flow to your brain. But how does your brain know when to send the signal to squeeze? It’s all part of concept scientists call interoception – the dialogue between your brain and the rest of your body.
Interoception is involved in everything from keeping us balanced while we walk, to keeping our blood pressure and heart rate steady. It even appears to influence our moods and emotions. And thanks to recent discoveries, we’re learning more about how interoception works. Researchers identified two special channels in neurons that react to touch and named them PIEZO1 and PIEZO2. Since first identifying these pressure sensors, researchers have found PIEZOs in internal organs like the heart, lungs, and blood vessels lining the stomach… suggesting many physiological functions involve mechanical forces that our brain and other parts of our nervous system must monitor and influence. As the study of interoception grows, scientists are hopeful the field could lead to breakthroughs in treating heart disease, controlling blood pressure, relieving anxiety and depression, and treating a number of other disorders. Learn more about Scripps Research at scripps.edu.