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Biophysics (Nagoya-shi). 2013 Dec 26;9:183-91. doi: 10.2142/biophysics.9.183. eCollection 2013.

Physical aspects of sensory transduction on seeing, hearing and smelling.

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Waseda University, Professor Emeritus, Graduate Institute of Medicine, Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Tokai University, School of High-Technology for Human Welfare, 317 Nishino, Numazu, Shizuoka 410-0321, Japan.


What is the general principle of sensory transduction? Sensory transduction is defined as energy transformation from the external world to the internal world. The energy of the external world, such as thermal energy (heat), electro-magnetic energy (light), mechanical energy (sound) and the energy from molecules (chemicals), is converted into electrochemical events in the animal nervous system. The following five classes of special sense receptors are utilized for energy conversion: vision (photo); audition (sound); taste and smell (chemo); and tactile (mechano). There are also other special sense receptors, including thermo and noxious receptors. The focus of this study is on photoreceptors, sound-receptors and odorant-receptors because the transduction mechanisms of these receptors are explained biochemically and understood by a common physical principle; these biochemical models are well known in neuroscience. The following notable problems are inherent in these biochemical models: the cGMP ionophore model of the vertebrate photoreceptor cannot explain the fast photo-response (∼msec); the tip links connection model of stereocilia in the basilar membrane for opening the K(+) channel on the tip of a hair has difficulty explaining the high frequency vibration of hair cells without a damping of the oscillation, and the odorant shape-specific receptor model for olfactory transduction has difficulty in discriminating the minute differences among similar fragrant smells of essential oils with different molecular shapes. These difficulties might arise from a lack of the physical sense when the transduction models were proposed. This article will reconsider these problems and propose rational models for visual, olfactory and auditory transduction.


ciliary cells; second messengers; vibration theory

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