Mustard Oil and Menthol: More Than Just Food Products

by Aaron Gochman (’18)


Ligand-gated ion channels are typically associated with receptors that are activated or deactivated upon the binding of a chemical messenger known as either an agonist or antagonist, depending on whether they activate (agonists) or deactivate (antagonists). One class of ion channels, the TRP family, has been known to be activated by thermal stimuli. Thermal stimulation of TRP ion channels certainly represents the better understood mechanism of activation; recent evidence pointing to co-activation by chemical ligands has led to further investigation into the role of agonists in channel gating.

A team of Belgian researchers recently worked to focus on the chemical activation of TRP channels. The team found that two different types of agonists, mustard oil and menthol, can activate cold-induced TRPM8 channels. Mustard oil and menthol, two common, ubiquitous compounds in nature, now provide a better understanding of the role of ligands in the activation of TRP channels.

Further research into chemical activation of other types of TRP channels as well as the complementary role in the presence of thermal stimuli is an area of research in need of deeper study. Insights into this field provide novel therapeutic targets as TRP channels have been known to play a role in various disease states.



  1. A. Janssens et. al., “Definition of two agonist types at the mammalian cold-activated channel TRPM8. eLife 5, e17240 (2016).

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