Pikachurin, I Choose You!

Pokémon is a media franchise created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996 and published by Nintendo. It is a series of  TV shows, video games, movies, card games and other media. It has sold a total of 250 million games  and the cartoon series has a staggering 850 episodes with 17 seasons and counting.



Ash and Pikachu Cosplay (Image credit: Gage Skidmore via wikicommons)

Pikachu, the yellow mouse Pokémon has become an icon for the series and is widely recognised for its lighting fast speed and thunderbolt attacks. Because of its popularity, scientific discoveries have been named after this yellow mouse Pokemon.

In 2008, The Department of Developmental Biology at the Osaka Bioscience institute, discovered a retinal protein and named it Pikachurin. It can also be referred to by its formal name as EGF-like fibronectin type-III and laminin G-like domain-containing protein (EGFLAM). Pikachurin is important for the transmission of visual information from the retina to the brain through the central nervous system. Typically, photoreceptors, within the eye, transmit their signals via bipolar interneurons to the basal ganglia in the brain. Pikachurin is able to increase the speed of the transmission signals because it is able form connections between the photoreceptors and the bipolar interneurons. It achieves this  through the binding of synaptic proteins called dystroglycans on photoreceptors. See figure below.

Without Pikachurin, the signals would reach more slowly  and it would affect the transmission and also visual function. It was named after Pikachu because the Pokemon itself is known for its speed, agility and quick attacks, just like the protein. 


Pikachurin links photoreceptors to bipolar cells  (Image credits: BQmUB2012037 via Wikicommons)

Ironically, this study was performed on mice models, where mice brains were dissected and imaged under a microscope. Mice with the deleted Pikachurin gene showed visual impairments. Diseases linked to Pikachurin causes congenital muscular dystrophies.

However, this is not the only protein that was named after the Japanese franchise. In 2005 a protein called the “POK erythroid myeloid ontogenic factor” (Pokemon) was found by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York.


Pokemon=cancerous gene

Pokémon=The video game franchise]

The protein is a proto-oncogene, which means it is able to cause cancer. When gene mutations occur on Pokemon, it causes the proteins to become cancerous and grow uncontrollably. This is because Pokemon is involved with differentiating stem cells and when mutations occur, they can cause cells to proliferate. Due to this  finding, Nintendo threatened with legal action against the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre . The name was then changed to Zbtb7 to prevent legal complications and to protect the rights of Nintendo.

Similarly, another gene called Sonic Hedgehog takes the same name as ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ by the video game company Sega.

Sonic hedgehog is a gene that is important for the early development of mammals. It is involved with the specification of limbs and the central nervous system in the developing embryo. The reason for calling it a hedgehog  is because when these genes were deleted in flies, the fly embryo was deformed and looked like a hedgehog. Other genes include the Desert hedgehog homologue, and Indian hedgehog homologue which are also involved with this pathway.  Conversely, a drug aimed at the Sonic hedgehog gene is called robotinikinin, named after the antagonist Dr. Robotnik also from the same franchise.


Sonic Hedgehog                                                                Sonic The Hedgehog

(Image Credits:Jawahar Swaminathan via Wikicommons) (Image Credits: Pikawil via Wikicommons)

These genes are all important in the human body and it is nice to know that Pokémon  and Sonic the hedgehog live inside us, quite literally.

Scientists are still professionals that work very hard. We must thank the scientists that named these new scientific discoveries and providing us with new knowledge about life on earth. And we also thank them for their humour!

Further Reading:


Lightening Fast Vision Protein Named After Pikachu

Nature Article on Pokemon Oncogene

Pokemon Oncogene

Sonic Hedgehog Morphogen




3 Responses to “Pikachurin, I Choose You!”

  1. aoly says:

    George, I enjoyed reading this blog. You have stated a lot of interesting facts about the funny names of really important biological compounds. It helps in better understanding and also makes it easier to remeber the names.I also think that it adds diversity to the current repertoir of names that are mainly European in nature.

  2. griffith says:

    An awesome blog to read. The explanation of quite a difficult topic was clear and concise, especially to a audience with very little background in developmental biology. Additionally, connecting science with popular culture provided a great example of how science can be communicated to a wider audience. Additionally what a fun piece of trivia fact!

  3. haamer says:

    An example of a GOOD science communication. Linking the ordinary cartoon heroes to complex research.