Mechanotransduction, the conversion of physical forces into biochemical signals, is essential for various physiological processes such as the conscious sensations of touch and hearing, and the unconscious sensation of blood flow. Mechanically activated (MA) ion channels have been proposed as sensors of physical force, but the identity of these channels and an understanding of how mechanical force is transduced has remained elusive. A number of recent studies on previously known ion channels along with the identification of novel MA ion channels have greatly transformed our understanding of touch and hearing in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Here, we present an updated review of eukaryotic ion channel families that have been implicated in mechanotransduction processes and evaluate the qualifications of the candidate genes according to specified criteria. We then discuss the proposed gating models for MA ion channels and highlight recent structural studies of mechanosensitive potassium channels. Mechanically activated (MA) ion channels are structurally diverse sensors required for numerous physiological processes including touch, pain, and hearing. Here, Ranade et al. review eukaryotic MA channel families, and explore the potential mechanisms of how these channels might be gated.
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