The electrical activity of mammalian osmosensory neurons (ONs) is increased by plasma hypertonicity to command thirst, antidiuretic hormone release, and increased sympathetic tone during dehydration. Osmosensory transduction is a mechanical process whereby decreases in cell volume cause the activation of transient receptor potential vanilloid type-1 (TRPV1) channels to induce depolarization and increase spiking activity in ONs. However, it is not known how cell shrinking is mechanically coupled to channel activation. Using superresolution imaging, we found that ONs are endowed with a uniquely interweaved scaffold of microtubules throughout their somata. Microtubules physically interact with the C terminus of TRPV1 at the cell surface and provide a pushing force that drives channels activation during shrinking. Moreover, we found that changes in the density of these interactions can bidirectionally modulate osmosensory gain. Microtubules are thus an essential component of the vital neuronal mechanotransduction apparatus that allows the brain to monitor and correct body hydration.
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