Mechanosensory neurons, cutaneous mechanoreceptors, and putative mechanoproteins



The mammalian skin has developed sensory structures (mechanoreceptors) that are responsible for different modalities of mechanosensitivity like touch, vibration, and pressure sensation. These specialized sensory organs are anatomically and functionally connected to a special subset of sensory neurons called mechanosensory neurons, which electrophysiologically correspond with Aβ fibers. Although mechanosensory neurons and cutaneous mechanoreceptors are rather well known, the biology of the sense of touch still remains poorly understood. Basically, the process of mechanosensitivity requires the conversion of a mechanical stimulus into an electrical signal through the activation of ion channels that gate in response to mechanical stimuli. These ion channels belong primarily to the family of the degenerin/epithelium sodium channels, especially the subfamily acid-sensing ion channels, and to the family of transient receptor potential channels. This review compiles the current knowledge on the occurrence of putative mechanoproteins in mechanosensory neurons and mechanoreceptors, as well as the involvement of these proteins on the biology of touch. Furthermore, we include a section about what the knock-out mice for mechanoproteins are teaching us. Finally, the possibilities for mechanotransduction in mechanoreceptors, and the common involvement of the ion channels, extracellular membrane, and cytoskeleton, are revisited. Microsc. Res. Tech. 75:1033–1043, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.