A possible unifying principle for mechanosensation


Of Aristotle's five senses, we know that sight, smell and much of taste are initiated by ligands binding to G-protein-coupled receptors; however, the mechanical sensations of touch and hearing remain without a clear understanding of their molecular basis. Recently, the relevant force-transducing molecules—the mechanosensitive ion channels—have been identified. Such channel proteins purified from bacteria sense forces from the lipid bilayer in the absence of other proteins. Recent evidence has shown that lipids are also intimately involved in opening and closing the mechanosensitive channels of fungal, plant and animal species.

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Figure 1: Bacterial channels function as emergency release valves in vivo , and the mechanosensitivity of pure MscL channel protein in vitro.
Figure 2: Opening MscL in E. coli.
Figure 3: The intrinsic forces in the lipid bilayer, and how applied forces can open MS channels.
Figure 4: The shape of bilayer components affects its geometry and intrinsic forces.
Figure 5: TRP channels in auditory sensory cells.
Figure 6: The disparate sensing of solutes and solvent.


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I thank A. Anishkin, M. Chalfie, R. Fettiplace, W. J. Haynes, S. Loukin, B. Martinac, Y. Saimi, A. O. W. Stretton and X.-L. Zhou for discussions and criticisms. My laboratory is supported by the Vilas Trust of the University of Wisconsin and by the NIH.

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Kung, C. A possible unifying principle for mechanosensation. Nature 436, 647–654 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03896

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