The cell membrane is the interface that volumetrically isolates cellular components from the cell’s environment. Proteins embedded within and on the membrane have varied biological functions: reception of external biochemical signals, as membrane channels, amplification and regulation of chemical signals through secondary messenger molecules, controlled exocytosis, endocytosis, phagocytosis, organized recruitment and sequestration of cytosolic complex proteins, cell division processes, organization of the cytoskeleton and more. The membrane’s bioelectrical role is enabled by the physiologically controlled release and accumulation of electrochemical potential modulating molecules across the membrane through specialized ion channels (e.g., Na+
channels). The membrane’s biomechanical functions include sensing external forces and/or the rigidity of the external environment through force transmission, specific conformational changes and/or signaling through mechanoreceptors (e.g., platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule (PECAM), vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin, epithelial (E)-cadherin, integrin) embedded in the membrane. Certain mechanical stimulations through specific receptor complexes induce electrical and/or chemical impulses in cells and propagate across cells and tissues. These biomechanical sensory and biochemical responses have profound implications in normal physiology and disease. Here, we discuss the tools that facilitate the understanding of mechanosensitive adhesion receptors. This article is structured to provide a broad biochemical and mechanobiology background to introduce a freshman mechano-biologist to the field of mechanotransduction, with deeper study enabled by many of the references cited herein.
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