PerspectiveCell Signaling

Getting to the Heart of Mechanotransduction

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Science  09 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6048, pp. 1388-1390
DOI: 10.1126/science.1212183

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Mechanotransduction, the process of converting mechanical stimuli into cellular responses, enables cells to produce signals that regulate a wide range of physiological responses. In the beating heart, for example, the stretching of muscle cells causes the release of chemical signals that regulate heart function, and studies in mice and humans have suggested a connection between faulty stretch-sensing mechanisms and heart disease (1). The mechanisms underlying such processes, however, have been unclear. On page 1440 of this issue, Prosser et al. (2) use a novel method that involves precisely stretching single heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) that have been glued to microscopic glass rods to provide some clarity. They demonstrate that a moderate stretch during the cell's relaxed state (diastole) can trigger a burst of calcium “sparks.” They also show that this process is defective in a life-threatening muscle disease.