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Pflugers Arch. 2015 Jan;467(1):15-25. doi: 10.1007/s00424-014-1535-x. Epub 2014 May 27.

MscL: channeling membrane tension.

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  • 1Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, 91125, USA.


Mechanosensitive channels are integral components for the response of bacteria to osmotic shock. The mechanosensitive channel of large conductance (MscL) responds to extreme turgor pressure increase that would otherwise lyse the cellular membrane. MscL has been studied as a model mechanosensitive channel using both structural and functional approaches. We will summarize the structural data and discuss outstanding questions surrounding the gating mechanism of this homo-oligomeric channel that has ~3 nS conductance. Specifically, we will explore the following: (1) the variability in oligomeric state that has been observed, (2) the open pore size measurements, and (3) the role of the C-terminal coiled coil domain for channel function. The oligomeric state of MscL has been characterized using various techniques, with a pentamer being the predominant form; however, the presence of mixtures of oligomers in the membrane is still uncertain. In the absence of structural data for the open state of MscL, the diameter of the open state pore has been estimated by several different approaches, leading to a current estimate between 25 and 30 Å. While the C-terminal domain is highly conserved among MscL homologues, it is not required for activity in vivo or in vitro. This domain is likely to remain intact during the gating transition and perform a filtering function that retains valuable osmolytes in the cytosol. Overall, studies of MscL have provided significant insight to the field, and serve as a paradigm for the analysis of non-homologous, eukaryotic mechanosensitive channel proteins.

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