Organisms as diverse as microbes, roundworms, insects, and mammals detect and respond to applied force. In animals, this ability depends on ionotropic force receptors, known as mechanoelectrical transduction (MeT) channels, that are expressed by specialized mechanoreceptor cells embedded in diverse tissues and distributed throughout the body. These cells mediate hearing, touch, and proprioception and play a crucial role in regulating organ function. Here, we attempt to integrate knowledge about the architecture of mechanoreceptor cells and their sensory organs with principles of cell mechanics, and we consider how engulfing tissues contribute to mechanical filtering. We address progress in the quest to identify the proteins that form MeT channels and to understand how these channels are gated. For clarity and convenience, we focus on sensory mechanobiology in nematodes, fruit flies, and mice. These themes are emphasized: asymmetric responses to applied forces, which may reflect anisotropy of the structure and mechanics of sensory mechanoreceptor cells, and proteins that function as MeT channels, which appear to have emerged many times through evolution.


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