Single-celled organisms must survive exposure to environmental extremes. Perhaps one of the most variable and potentially lifethreatening changes that can occur is that of a rapid and acute decrease in external osmolarity. This easily translates into several atmospheres of additional pressure that can build up within the cell. Without a protective mechanism against such pressures, the cell will lyse. Hence, most microbes appear to possess members of one or both families of bacterial mechanosensitive channels, MscS and MscL, which can act as biological emergency release valves that allow cytoplasmic solutes to be jettisoned rapidly from the cell. While this is undoubtedly a function of these proteins, the discovery of the presence of MscS homologues in plant organelles and MscL in fungus and mycoplasma genomes may complicate this simplistic interpretation of the physiology underlying these proteins. Here we compare and contrast these two mechanosensitive channel families, discuss their potential physiological roles, and review some of the most relevant data that underlie the current models for their structure and function.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology