Are TMCs the Mechanotransduction Channels of Vertebrate Hair Cells?

J Neurosci. 2016 Oct 26;36(43):10921-10926. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1148-16.2016.


Sensory transduction in vertebrate hair cells and the molecules that mediate it have long been of great interest. Some components of the mechanotransduction apparatus have been identified, most as deafness gene products. Although prior candidates for the mechanotransduction channel have been proposed, each has faded with new evidence. Now, two strong candidates, TMC1 and TMC2 (transmembrane channel-like), have emerged from discovery of deafness genes in humans and mice. They are expressed at the right time during development: exactly at the onset of mechanosensitivity. They are expressed in the right place: in hair cells but not surrounding cells. Fluorescently tagged TMCs localize to the tips of stereocilia, the site of the transduction channels. TMCs bind other proteins essential for mechanosensation, suggesting a larger transduction complex. Although TMC1 and TMC2 can substitute for each other, genetic deletion of both renders mouse hair cells mechanically insensitive. Finally, the conductance and Ca2+ selectivity of the transduction channels depend on the TMC proteins, differing when hair cells express one or the other TMC, and differing if TMC1 harbors a point mutation. Some contrary evidence has emerged: a current activated in hair cells by negative pressure, with some similarity to the transduction current, persists in TMC knock-outs. But it is not clear that this anomalous current is carried by the same proteins. Further evidence is desired, such as production of a mechanically gated conductance by pure TMCs. But the great majority of evidence is consistent with these TMCs as pore-forming subunits of the long-sought hair-cell transduction channel.

Keywords: TMC; auditory; hair cell; hearing; mechanotransduction; vestibular.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / physiology*
  • Hearing
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • TMC1 protein, human
  • TMC2 protein, human
  • Calcium