Mechanistic basis for low threshold mechanosensitivity in voltage-dependent K+ channels

Daniel Schmidt, Josefina Del Maŕmol, Roderick MacKinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Living cells respond to mechanical forces applied to their outer membrane through processes referred to as "mechanosensation". Faced with hypotonic shock, to circumvent cell lysis, bacteria open large solute-passing channels to reduce the osmotic pressure gradient. In the vascular beds of vertebrate animals blood flow is regulated directly through mechanical distention-induced opening of stretch-activated channels in smooth muscle cells. Touch sensation is thought to originate in mechanically sensitive ion channels in nerve endings, and hearing in mechanically sensitive ion channels located in specialized cells of the ear. While the ubiquity of mechanosensation in living cells is evident, the ion channels underlying the transduction events in vertebrate animals have remained elusive. Here we demonstrate through electrophysiological recordings that voltage-dependent K+ (Kv) channels exhibit exquisite sensitivity to small (physiologically relevant in magnitude) mechanical perturbations of the cell membrane. The demonstrated mechanosensitivity is quantitatively consistent with membrane tension acting on a late-opening transition through stabilization of a dilated pore. This effect causes a shift in the voltage range over which Kv channels open as well as an increase in the maximum open probability. This mechanically induced shift could allow Kv channels and perhaps other voltage-dependent ion channels to play a role in mechanosensation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10352-10357
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 26 2012


  • Electrophysiology
  • Gating
  • Gigaseal
  • Membrane forces
  • Potassium channel


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