Transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels are eukaryotic polymodal sensors that function as molecular cellular signal integrators. TRP family members sense and are modulated by a wide array of inputs, including temperature, pressure, pH, voltage, chemicals, lipids, and other proteins. These inputs induce signal transduction events mediated by nonselective cation passage through TRP channels. In this review, we focus on the thermosensitive TRP channels and highlight the emerging view that these channels play a variety of significant roles in physiology and pathophysiology in addition to sensory biology. We attempt to use this viewpoint as a framework to understand the complexity and controversy of TRP channel modulation and ultimately suggest that the complex functional behavior arises inherently because this class of protein is exquisitely sensitive to many diverse and distinct signal inputs. To illustrate this idea, we primarily focus on TRP channel thermosensing. We also offer a structural, biochemical, biophysical, and computational perspective that may help to bring more coherence and consensus in understanding the function of this important class of proteins.
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