Mechanotransduction is the conversion of mechanical stimuli into biological signals. It is involved in the modulation of diverse cellular functions such as migration, proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis as well as in the detection of sensory stimuli such as air vibration and mechanical contact. Therefore, mechanotransduction is crucial for organ development and homeostasis and plays a direct role in hearing, touch, proprioception, and pain. Multiple molecular players involved in mechanotransduction have been identified in the past, among them ion channels directly activated by cell membrane deformation. Most of these channels have well-established roles in lower organisms but are not conserved in mammals or fail to encode mechanically activated channels in mammals due to non-conservation of mechanotransduction property. A family of mechanically activated channels that counts only two members in human, piezo1 and 2, has emerged recently. Given the lack of valid mechanically activated channel candidates in mammals in the past decades, particular attention is given to piezo channels and their potential roles in various biological functions. This review summarizes our current knowledge on these ion channels.
Authors are supported by a grant from Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-12-PDOC-0005-01). We thank Dr. Nancy Osorio for critical reading of the manuscript.
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