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Concept: Mechanosensitive ion channel


One of the best-studied mechanosensitive channels is the mechanosensitive channel of large conductance (MscL). MscL senses tension in the membrane evoked by an osmotic down shock and directly couples it to large conformational changes leading to the opening of the channel. Spectroscopic techniques offer unique possibilities to monitor these conformational changes if it were possible to generate tension in the lipid bilayer, the native environment of MscL, during the measurements. To this end, asymmetric insertion of l-α-lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) into the lipid bilayer has been effective; however, how LPC activates MscL is not fully understood. Here, the effects of LPC on tension-sensitive mutants of a bacterial MscL and on MscL homologs with different tension sensitivities are reported, leading to the conclusion that the mode of action of LPC is different from that of applied tension. Our results imply that LPC shifts the free energy of gating by interfering with MscL-membrane coupling. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the fine-tuned addition of LPC can be used for controlled activation of MscL in spectroscopic studies.-Mukherjee, N., Jose, M. D., Birkner, J. P., Walko, M., Ingólfsson, H. I., Dimitrova, A., Arnarez, C., Marrink, S. J., Koçer, A. The activation mode of the mechanosensitive ion channel, MscL, by lysophosphatidylcholine differs from tension-induced gating.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Cell membrane, Lipid bilayer, Channel, The Conclusion, English Channel, Mechanosensitive channels, Mechanosensitive ion channel


Piezo1 and Piezo2 are critically required for nonselective cationic mechanosensitive channels in mammalian cells. Within the last 5 years, tremendous progress has been made in understanding the function of Piezo1/2 in embryonic development, physiology, and associated disease states. A recent breakthrough was the discovery of a chemical opener for Piezo1, indicating that mechanosensitive ion channels can be opened independently of mechanical stress. We will review these new exciting findings, which might pave the road for the identification of novel therapeutic strategies.

Concepts: Force, Stress, Mammalian embryogenesis, Jedi, Mechanosensitive ion channel


When bacteria encounter surfaces, they respond with surface colonization and virulence induction. The mechanisms of bacterial mechanosensation and downstream signaling remain poorly understood. Here, we describe a tactile sensing cascade in Caulobacter crescentus in which the flagellar motor acts as sensor. Surface-induced motor interference stimulated the production of the second messenger cyclic diguanylate by the motor-associated diguanylate cyclase DgcB. This led to the allosteric activation of the glycosyltransferase HfsJ to promote rapid synthesis of a polysaccharide adhesin and surface anchoring. Although the membrane-embedded motor unit was essential for surface sensing, mutants that lack external flagellar structures were hypersensitive to mechanical stimuli. Thus, the bacterial flagellar motor acts as a tetherless sensor reminiscent of mechanosensitive channels.

Concepts: Enzyme kinetics, Bacteria, Flagellum, Proteobacteria, Caulobacter crescentus, Mechanosensation, Mechanosensitive channels, Mechanosensitive ion channel


Diarthrodial joints are essential for load bearing and locomotion. Physiologically, articular cartilage sustains millions of cycles of mechanical loading. Chondrocytes, the cells in cartilage, regulate their metabolic activities in response to mechanical loading. Pathological mechanical stress can lead to maladaptive cellular responses and subsequent cartilage degeneration. We sought to deconstruct chondrocyte mechanotransduction by identifying mechanosensitive ion channels functioning at injurious levels of strain. We detected robust expression of the recently identified mechanosensitive channels, PIEZO1 and PIEZO2. Combined directed expression of Piezo1 and -2 sustained potentiated mechanically induced Ca(2+) signals and electrical currents compared with single-Piezo expression. In primary articular chondrocytes, mechanically evoked Ca(2+) transients produced by atomic force microscopy were inhibited by GsMTx4, a PIEZO-blocking peptide, and by Piezo1- or Piezo2-specific siRNA. We complemented the cellular approach with an explant-cartilage injury model. GsMTx4 reduced chondrocyte death after mechanical injury, suggesting a possible therapy for reducing cartilage injury and posttraumatic osteoarthritis by attenuating Piezo-mediated cartilage mechanotransduction of injurious strains.

Concepts: Bone, Chondroitin sulfate, Cartilage, Osteoarthritis, Knee, Autologous chondrocyte implantation, Chondrocyte, Mechanosensitive ion channel


GsMTx4 is a spider venom peptide that inhibits cationic mechanosensitive channels (MSCs). It has six lysine residues that have been proposed to affect membrane binding. We synthesized six analogs with single lysine-to-glutamate substitutions and tested them against Piezo1 channels in outside-out patches and independently measured lipid binding. Four analogs had ∼20% lower efficacy than the wild-type (WT) peptide. The equilibrium constants calculated from the rates of inhibition and washout did not correlate with the changes in inhibition. The lipid association strength of the WT GsMTx4 and the analogs was determined by tryptophan autofluorescence quenching and isothermal calorimetry with membrane vesicles and showed no significant differences in binding energy. Tryptophan fluorescence-quenching assays showed that both WT and analog peptides bound superficially near the lipid-water interface, although analogs penetrated deeper. Peptide-lipid association, as a function of lipid surface pressure, was investigated in Langmuir monolayers. The peptides occupied a large fraction of the expanded monolayer area, but that fraction was reduced by peptide expulsion as the pressure approached the monolayer-bilayer equivalence pressure. Analogs with compromised efficacy had pressure-area isotherms with steeper slopes in this region, suggesting tighter peptide association. The pressure-dependent redistribution of peptide between “deep” and “shallow” binding modes was supported by molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of the peptide-monolayer system under different area constraints. These data suggest a model placing GsMTx4 at the membrane surface, where it is stabilized by the lysines, and occupying a small fraction of the surface area in unstressed membranes. When applied tension reduces lateral pressure in the lipids, the peptides penetrate deeper acting as “area reservoirs” leading to partial relaxation of the outer monolayer, thereby reducing the effective magnitude of stimulus acting on the MSC gate.

Concepts: Protein, Mass spectrometry, Inhibitor, Lysine, Lipid bilayer, Monolayer, Langmuir, Mechanosensitive ion channel


Mechanosensitive (MS) channels provide protection against hypo-osmotic shock in bacteria whereas eukaryotic MS channels fulfil a multitude of important functions beside osmoregulation. Interactions with the membrane lipids are responsible for the sensing of mechanical force for most known MS channels. It emerged recently that not only prokaryotic, but also eukaryotic, MS channels are able to directly sense the tension in the membrane bilayer without any additional cofactor. If the membrane is solely viewed as a continuous medium with specific anisotropic physical properties, the sensitivity towards tension changes can be explained as result of the hydrophobic coupling between membrane and transmembrane ™ regions of the channel. The increased cross-sectional area of the MS channel in the active conformation and elastic deformations of the membrane close to the channel have been described as important factors. However, recent studies suggest that molecular interactions of lipids with the channels could play an important role in mechanosensation. Pockets in between TM helices were identified in the MS channel of small conductance (MscS) and YnaI that are filled with lipids. Less lipids are present in the open state of MscS than the closed according to MD simulations. Thus it was suggested that exclusion of lipid fatty acyl chains from these pockets, as a consequence of increased tension, would trigger gating. Similarly, in the eukaryotic MS channel TRAAK it was found that a lipid chain blocks the conducting path in the closed state. The role of these specific lipid interactions in mechanosensation are highlighted in this review.

Concepts: Protein, Archaea, Bacteria, Metabolism, Cell membrane, Lipid bilayer, Mechanosensitive channels, Mechanosensitive ion channel


The bacterial mechanosensitive channel MscL gates in response to membrane tension as a result of mechanical force transmitted directly to the channel from the lipid bilayer. MscL represents an excellent model system to study the basic biophysical principles of mechanosensory transduction. However, understanding of the essential structural components that transduce bilayer tension into channel gating remains incomplete. Here using multiple experimental and computational approaches, we demonstrate that the amphipathic N-terminal helix of MscL acts as a crucial structural element during tension-induced gating, both stabilizing the closed state and coupling the channel to the membrane. We propose that this may also represent a common principle in the gating cycle of unrelated mechanosensitive ion channels, allowing the coupling of channel conformation to membrane dynamics.

Concepts: Protein, Molecular biology, Mitochondrion, Cell membrane, Force, Membrane biology, Lipid bilayer, Mechanosensitive ion channel


Mechanosensitive ion channels initiate sensory signals by converting mechanical information into electrochemical signals. In this issue of Neuron (Zhao et al., 2016), a data-rich structure-function study on mammalian mechanosensitive Piezo channels reveals a modular protein architecture that includes a central pore module surrounded by a force-sensing module.

Concepts: Module, Mechanosensitive ion channel


Mechanosensitive ion channels are force-transducing enzymes that couple mechanical stimuli to ion flux. Understanding the gating mechanism of mechanosensitive channels is challenging because the stimulus seen by the channel reflects forces shared between the membrane, cytoskeleton and extracellular matrix. Here we examine whether the mechanosensitive channel PIEZO1 is activated by force-transmission through the bilayer. To achieve this, we generate HEK293 cell membrane blebs largely free of cytoskeleton. Using the bacterial channel MscL, we calibrate the bilayer tension demonstrating that activation of MscL in blebs is identical to that in reconstituted bilayers. Utilizing a novel PIEZO1-GFP fusion, we then show PIEZO1 is activated by bilayer tension in bleb membranes, gating at lower pressures indicative of removal of the cortical cytoskeleton and the mechanoprotection it provides. Thus, PIEZO1 channels must sense force directly transmitted through the bilayer.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Bacteria, Cell membrane, Force, Membrane biology, Mechanosensation, Mechanosensitive ion channel


An absence of utrophin in muscle from mdx mice prolongs the open time of single mechanosensitive channels. On a time scale much longer than the duration of individual channel activations, genetic depletion of utrophin produces low frequency oscillations of channel open probability. Oscillatory channel opening occurred in the dystrophin/utrophin mutants, but was absent in wild-type and mdx fibers. By contrast, small conductance channels showed random gating behavior when present in the same patch. Applying a negative pressure to a patch on a DKO fiber produced a burst of mode II activity, but channels subsequently closed and remained silent for tens of seconds during the maintained pressure stimulus. In addition, simultaneous opening of multiple MS channels could be frequently observed in recordings from patches on DKO fibers, but only rarely in wild-type and mdx muscle. A model which accounts for the single-channel data is proposed in which utrophin acts as gating spring which maintains the mechanical stability a caveolar-like compartment. The state of this compartment is suggested to be dynamic; its continuity with the extracellular surface varying over seconds to minutes. Loss of the mechanical stability of this compartment contributes to pathogenic Ca(2+) entry through MS channels in Duchenne dystrophy.

Concepts: Cell membrane, Action potential, Electromyography, Muscular dystrophy, Channel, Absenteeism, Open set, Mechanosensitive ion channel