Many tissues are able to detect and respond to mechanical forces, and this mechanical sensitivity has been implicated in many biological processes and diseases, including touch, pain, deafness and hypertension. The conversion of mechanical force into biological signals, or 'mechanotransduction', is thought to involve specialized cation channels. In a pair of papers, Ardem Patapoutian and colleagues establish that the large transmembrane proteins of the 'Piezo' family — conserved from animals to plants and protozoa — are among the long-sought-after mechanically activated ion channels. Coste et al. show that the Drosophila melanogaster Piezo protein induces mechanically activated cationic currents in human embryonic kidney cells, establishing functional conservation. Comparison of the mechanically activated currents induced by mouse and fly Piezos reveals ion-channel activities with unique pore properties, suggesting that Piezos are bona fide ion channels. Kim et al. show that D. melanogaster Piezo is essential for sensing mechanical pain in fruitflies, giving the first demonstration that Piezos are physiologically relevant mechanosensors in vivo.
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