Mechanosensitive Channels: Multiplicity of Families and Gating Paradigms

Science's STKE  10 Feb 2004:
Vol. 2004, Issue 219, pp. re4
DOI: 10.1126/stke.2192004re4

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Mechanosensitive ion channels are the primary transducers that convert mechanical force into an electrical or chemical signal in hearing, touch, and other mechanical senses. Unlike vision, olfaction, and some types of taste, which all use similar kinds of primary heterotrimeric GTP-binding protein–coupled receptors, mechanosensation relies on diverse types of transducer molecules. Unrelated types of channels can be used for the perception of various mechanical stimuli, not only in distant groups of organisms, but also in separate locations of the same organism. The extreme sensitivity of the transduction mechanism in the auditory system, which relies on an elaborate structure of rigid cilia, filamentous links, and molecular motors to focus force on transduction channels, contrasts with that of the bacterial channel MscL, which is opened by high lateral tension in the membrane and fulfills a safety-valve rather than a sensory function. The spatial scales of conformational movement and force in these two systems are described, and are shown to be consistent with a general physical description of mechanical channel gating. We outline the characteristics of several types of mechanosensitive channels and the functional contexts in which they participate in signaling and cellular regulation in sensory and nonsensory cells.

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