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Physiol Rev. 2004 Oct;84(4):1097-153.

Genetic models of mechanotransduction: the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Foundation for Research and Technology, Vassilika Vouton, PO Box 1527, Heraklion 71110, Crete, Greece.


Mechanotransduction, the conversion of a mechanical stimulus into a biological response, constitutes the basis for a plethora of fundamental biological processes such as the senses of touch, balance, and hearing and contributes critically to development and homeostasis in all organisms. Despite this profound importance in biology, we know remarkably little about how mechanical input forces delivered to a cell are interpreted to an extensive repertoire of output physiological responses. Recent, elegant genetic and electrophysiological studies have shown that specialized macromolecular complexes, encompassing mechanically gated ion channels, play a central role in the transformation of mechanical forces into a cellular signal, which takes place in mechanosensory organs of diverse organisms. These complexes are highly efficient sensors, closely entangled with their surrounding environment. Such association appears essential for proper channel gating and provides proximity of the mechanosensory apparatus to the source of triggering mechanical energy. Genetic and molecular evidence collected in model organisms such as the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and the mouse highlight two distinct classes of mechanically gated ion channels: the degenerin (DEG)/epithelial Na(+) channel (ENaC) family and the transient receptor potential (TRP) family of ion channels. In addition to the core channel proteins, several other potentially interacting molecules have in some cases been identified, which are likely parts of the mechanotransducing apparatus. Based on cumulative data, a model of the sensory mechanotransducer has emerged that encompasses our current understanding of the process and fulfills the structural requirements dictated by its dedicated function. It remains to be seen how general this model is and whether it will withstand the impiteous test of time.

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