Scientists have discovered a previously unknown organ through which people detect dangerous stimuli from the environment and could be responsible for certain types of pain. It is located under the upper layer of the skin.
The organ was found by scientists at the Swedish Karolinska Institutet, and consists of reticulated Schwann cells located near nerves, which, like an octopus, envelop and enter nerve cells to keep them alive, and were not previously known to participate in the sensation of pain.
The structure protrudes just below the surface of the skin, extending thread-like protrusions into its outer layer, the epidermis.
The discovery was published in the journal Science, and the structure was given the non-glamorous name nociceptive glioneuron complex (NGNC).
The NGNC forms a single, intricate network with nearby nerve cells throughout the body, leading researchers to argue that it should also be officially named an organ.
Scientists were surprised by the discovery because it has long been believed that the ends of nerve cells in the epidermis are bare or have no sheath.
This discovery could lead to the development of new painkillers.