The plasma membrane as a mechanochemical transducer, 2019

Topics: plasma membrane, mechanotransduction, membrane tension, mechanosensor

Authors: Anabel-Lise Le Roux, Xarxa Quiroga, Nikhil Walani, Marino Arroyo and Pere Roca-Cusachs


Cells are constantly submitted to external mechanical stresses, which they must withstand and respond to. By forming a physical boundary between cells and their environment that is also a biochemical platform, the plasma membrane (PM) is a key interface mediating both cellular response to mechanical stimuli, and subsequent biochemical responses. Here, we review the role of the PM as a mechanosensing structure. We first analyse how the PM responds to mechanical stresses, and then discuss how this mechanical response triggers downstream biochemical responses. The molecular players involved in PM mechanochemical transduction include sensors of membrane unfolding, membrane tension, membrane curvature or membrane domain rearrangement. These sensors trigger signalling cascades fundamental both in healthy scenarios and in diseases such as cancer, which cells harness to maintain integrity, keep or restore homeostasis and adapt to their external environment. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Forces in cancer: interdisciplinary approaches in tumour mechanobiology’.

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