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MDC researchers link protein tether to touch perception
Date:2/18/2010

Humans and animals are able to perceive even the slightest vibration and touch of the skin. Mechanosensitive ion channels play a crucial role in the mediation of these sensations. Ion channels are pores in the cell membrane which are highly responsive to external signals. Mechanosensitive ion channels open at the slightest vibration and allow ions (electrically charged particles), to cross the cell membrane, which causes an electrical current until the channel closes again. Until now it was unclear how the ion channels were opened. Dr. Jing Hu and Professor Gary Lewin of the Max Delbrck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, have now discovered the presence of a protein filament that causes the ion channels to open and shut like a tethered gate (EMBO Journal,Vol. 29, No. 4, pp 855-867; doi: 10.1038/emboj.2009.398)*.

In their study, the researchers showed that the opening and closing of ion channels literally "hangs by a thread". This protein thread or filament, as Dr. Hu and Professor Lewin demonstrated, is synthesized by the mechanosensitive endings of cutaneous neurons and is probably an integral part of the mechanosensitive mechanism.

The thread is firmly tethered in the extracellular matrix (ECM), the connective protein "glue" that helps to hold cells together. However, the filament is located so close to the mechanosensitive ion channels that it can probably directly open them. The filaments were found to be 100 nanometers (nm) long (1 nanometer is equivalent to one billionth of a meter) and may link the ion channels of the cell membrane to the ECM at mechanosensitive sensory endings of the skin in mice.

The researchers demonstrated both with neuronal cultures and experiments using the isolated skin with receptors attached that the opening of mechanosensitive ion channels upon slight touch requires the 100nm protein filament. The stretching of sensory membranes by small mechanical stimuli does not appe
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Contact: Barbara Bachtler
bachtler@mdc-berlin.de
49-309-406-3896
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert

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