Mechanosensing in cell membranes

Special seminar

  • Date: Jun 13, 2019
  • Time: 11:00
  • Speaker: Prof. Dr. Christoph Haselwandter
  • Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Southern California Los Angeles
  • Location: MPI for Terrestrial Microbiology
  • Room: Lecture hall
  • Host: Prof. Dr. Victor Sourjik
  • Contact: victor.sourjik@synmikro.mpi-marburg.mpg.de

Mechanosensation is essential for cellular survival, and was already identified by Aristotle as one of the five fundamental senses. In bacteria, mechanosensitive ion channels have long been known to transduce osmotic shock into an electrochemical response. But the molecular basis for mechanosensation in mammals is only beginning to be unraveled. Over the past few years it has been established that Piezo ion channels underlie mechanosensation in a wide range of mammalian cells. We show here that membrane mechanics provides a unifying physical framework for understanding mechanosensation in bacteria and complex multicellular organisms. Applying this framework to mechanosensation in mammals we find that, in the absence of membrane tension, Piezo tends to locally curve the cell membrane into a minimal surface. The unique mathematical properties of this minimal surface amplify the sensitivity of Piezo to changes in membrane tension, rendering it exquisitely responsive. We assert that the shape of Piezo is an elegant example of molecular form evolved to optimize a specific function, in this case tension sensitivity.

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