Life with bacterial mechanosensitive channels, from discovery to physiology to pharmacological target

Paul Blount, Irene Iscla

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


General principles in biology have often been elucidated from the study of bacteria. This is true for the bacterial mechanosensitive channel of large conductance, MscL, the channel highlighted in this review. This channel functions as a last-ditch emergency release valve discharging cytoplasmic solutes upon decreases in osmotic environment. Opening the largest gated pore, MscL passes molecules up to 30 Å in diameter; exaggerated conformational changes yield advantages for study, including in vivo assays. MscL contains structural/ functional themes that recur in higher organisms and help elucidate how other, structurally more complex, channels function. These features of MscL include (i) the ability to directly sense, and respond to, biophysical changes in the membrane, (ii) an α helix (“slide helix”) or series of charges (“knot in a rope”) at the cytoplasmic membrane boundary to guide transmembrane movements, and (iii) important subunit interfaces that, when disrupted, appear to cause the channel to gate inappropriately. MscL may also have medical applications: the modality of the MscL channel can be changed, suggesting its use as a triggered nanovalve in nanodevices, including those for drug targeting. In addition, recent studies have shown that the antibiotic streptomycin opens MscL and uses it as one of the primary paths to the cytoplasm. Moreover, the recent identification and study of novel specific agonist compounds demonstrate that the channel is a valid drug target. Such compounds may serve as novel-acting antibiotics and adjuvants, a way of permeabilizing the bacterial cell membrane and, thus, increasing the potency of commonly used antibiotics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00055-19
JournalMicrobiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Drug targets
  • Ion channels
  • Mechanosensitive channels
  • Membrane biophysics
  • Membrane channel proteins
  • Membrane transport
  • Osmoregulation
  • Physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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