Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are voltage-insensitive cation channels responding to extracellular acidification. ASIC proteins have two transmembrane domains and a large extracellular domain. The molecular topology of ASICs is similar to that of the mechanosensory abnormality 4- or 10-proteins expressed in touch receptor neurons and involved in neurosensory mechanotransduction in nematodes. The ASIC proteins are involved in neurosensory mechanotransduction in mammals. The ASIC isoforms are expressed in Merkel cell-neurite complexes, periodontal Ruffini endings and specialized nerve terminals of skin and muscle spindles, so they might participate in mechanosensation. In knockout mouse models, lacking an ASIC isoform produces defects in neurosensory mechanotransduction of tissue such as skin, stomach, colon, aortic arch, venoatrial junction and cochlea. The ASICs are thus implicated in touch, pain, digestive function, baroreception, blood volume control and hearing. However, the role of ASICs in mechanotransduction is still controversial, because we lack evidence that the channels are mechanically sensitive when expressed in heterologous cells. Thus, ASIC channels alone are not sufficient to reconstruct the path of transducing molecules of mechanically activated channels. The mechanotransducers associated with ASICs need further elucidation. In this review, we discuss the expression of ASICs in sensory afferents of mechanoreceptors, findings of knockout studies, technical issues concerning studies of neurosensory mechanotransduction and possible missing links. Also we propose a molecular model and a new approach to disclose the molecular mechanism underlying the neurosensory mechanotransduction.
© 2013 The Authors. Published by Foundation for Cellular and Molecular Medicine/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.