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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 10 Issue 2 (2005) pp 107-114

Force from Lipids: Physical Principles of Gating Mechanosensitive Channels by Mechanical Force Revealed by Chemical Manipulation of Cellular Membranes

Boris Martinac

School of Biochemical Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia,
Received April 18, 2004. Accepted June 21, 2004.

Published online: 22 February 2005

Abstract. Mechanical stimuli that living cells have to respond to range from thermal molecular agitation to potentially destructive cell swelling caused by osmotic pressure gradients. Mechanosensitivity is the ability of living cells and organisms to respond to external mechanical stimuli, enabling them to interact with their changing environment. During these interactions cellular membranes are a major target for environmental mechanical forces. The molecules that are able to detect and process these mechanical forces into intracellular signals, allowing the cell to respond, are mechanosensitive (MS) ion channels. Although our understanding of the role of MS channels in the physiology of mechanotransduction has recently made significant progress, what makes these channels respond to membrane stresses at the molecular level is not fully understood. In this article, the physical principles underlying interactions between MS channel proteins and the lipid bilayer of cell membranes are discussed.

Key Words: In the Classroom; biochemistry; mechanosensitivity; lipid bilayer; bilayer-couple hypothesis; ion channels; bacteria; patch clamp; electronparamagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy

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Issue date: April, 1 2005

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