Radial stretch reveals distinct populations of mechanosensitive mammalian somatosensory neurons

Martha R.C. Bhattacharya, Diana M. Bautista, Karin Wu, Henry Haeberle, Ellen A. Lumpkin, David Julius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Primary afferent somatosensory neurons mediate our sense of touch in response to changes in ambient pressure. Molecules that detect and transduce thermal stimuli have been recently identified, but mechanisms underlying mechanosensation, particularly in vertebrate organisms, remain enigmatic. Traditionally, mechanically evoked responses in somatosensory neurons have been assessed one cell at a time by recording membrane currents in response to application of focal pressure, suction, or osmotic challenge. Here, we used radial stretch in combination with live-cell calcium imaging to gain a broad overview of mechanosensitive neuronal sub-populations. We found that different stretch intensities activate distinct subsets of sensory neurons as defined by size, molecular markers, or pharmacological attributes. In all subsets, stretch-evoked responses required extracellular calcium, indicating that mechanical force triggers calcium influx. This approach extends the repertoire of stimulus paradigms that can be used to examine mechanotransduction in mammalian sensory neurons, facilitating future physiological and pharmacological studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20015-20020
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 16 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Mechanotransduction
  • Sensory signaling
  • Somatosensation
  • Touch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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