Force Signaling in Biology

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Science  05 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5932, pp. 1278-1280
DOI: 10.1126/science.1175874

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Many processes in our body, like muscle contraction, cell locomotion and division, or transport processes, need force-producing actuators such as molecular motors. In turn, biological systems can also sense mechanical forces. Examples are the sense of touch, hearing, and the strengthening of muscle tissues upon physical exercise. In these cases, force triggers a biochemical signal cascade, but the mechanisms by which forces affect biomolecular conformation and biochemical signaling have long remained elusive. The development of ultrasensitive instruments for nanomanipulation— such as atomic force microscopy and optical and magnetic tweezers—has allowed the effect of forces on protein conformation and function to be probed at the single-molecule level (14).