Phospholipids that contain polyunsaturated fatty acids enhance neuronal cell mechanics and touch sensation

Cell Rep. 2014 Jan 16;6(1):70-80. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2013.12.012. Epub 2014 Jan 2.


Mechanoelectrical transduction (MeT) channels embedded in neuronal cell membranes are essential for touch and proprioception. Little is understood about the interplay between native MeT channels and membrane phospholipids, in part because few techniques are available for altering plasma membrane composition in vivo. Here, we leverage genetic dissection, chemical complementation, and optogenetics to establish that arachidonic acid (AA), an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, enhances touch sensation and mechanoelectrical transduction activity while incorporated into membrane phospholipids in C. elegans touch receptor neurons (TRNs). Because dynamic force spectroscopy reveals that AA modulates the mechanical properties of TRN plasma membranes, we propose that this polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) is needed for MeT channel activity. These findings establish that polyunsaturated phospholipids are crucial determinants of both the biochemistry and mechanics of mechanoreceptor neurons and reinforce the idea that sensory mechanotransduction in animals relies on a cellular machine composed of both proteins and membrane lipids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Mechanoreceptors / metabolism*
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular*
  • Optogenetics
  • Phospholipids / metabolism*
  • Touch*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Ion Channels
  • Phospholipids
  • Arachidonic Acid