Mechanosensitive channels of Escherichia coli: The MscL gene, protein, and activities

Sergei I. Sukharev, Paul Blount, Boris Martinac, Ching Kung

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

260 Scopus citations


Although mechanosensory responses are ubiquitous and diverse, the molecular bases of mechanosensation in most cases remain mysterious. MscL, a mechanosensitive channel of large conductance of Escherichia coli and its bacterial homologues are the first and currently only channel molecules shown to directly sense mechanical stretch of the membrane. In response to the tension conveyed via the lipid bilayer, MscL increases its open probability by several orders of magnitude. In the present review we describe the identification, cloning, and first sets of biophysical and structural data on this simplest mechanosensory molecule. We discovered a 2.5-ns mechanosensitive conductance in giant E. coli spheroplasts. Using chromatographies to enrich the target and patch clamp to assay the channel activity in liposome-reconstituted fractions, we identified the MscL protein and cloned the mscL gene. MscL comprises 136 amino acid residues (15 kDa), with two highly hydrophobic regions, and resides in the inner membrane of the bacterium. PhoA-fusion experiments indicate that the protein spans the membrane twice with both termini in the cytoplasm. Spectroscopic techniques show that it is highly helical. Expression of MscL tandems and covalent cross-linking suggest that the active channel complex is a homo-hexamer. We have identified several residues, which when deleted or substituted, affect channel kinetics or mechanosensitivity. Although unique when discovered, highly conserved MscL homologues in both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria have been found, suggesting their ubiquitous importance among bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-657
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual review of physiology
StatePublished - 1997


  • E. coli
  • MscL
  • osmotic forces
  • patch clamp
  • stretch activated-channels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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