Crowding-induced opening of the mechanosensitive Piezo1 channel in silico

Commun Biol. 2021 Jan 19;4(1):84. doi: 10.1038/s42003-020-01600-1.


Mechanosensitive Piezo1 channels are essential mechanotransduction proteins in eukaryotes. Their curved transmembrane domains, called arms, create a convex membrane deformation, or footprint, which is predicted to flatten in response to increased membrane tension. Here, using a hyperbolic tangent model, we show that, due to the intrinsic bending rigidity of the membrane, the overlap of neighboring Piezo1 footprints produces a flattening of the Piezo1 footprints and arms. Multiple all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of Piezo1 further reveal that this tension-independent flattening is accompanied by gating motions that open an activation gate in the pore. This open state recapitulates experimentally obtained ionic selectivity, unitary conductance, and mutant phenotypes. Tracking ion permeation along the open pore reveals the presence of intracellular and extracellular fenestrations acting as cation-selective sites. Simulations also reveal multiple potential binding sites for phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate. We propose that the overlap of Piezo channel footprints may act as a cooperative mechanism to regulate channel activity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating / genetics
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology
  • Ion Channels / genetics
  • Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Ions / metabolism
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / genetics
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology
  • Models, Molecular
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Protein Domains / genetics


  • Ion Channels
  • Ions
  • PIEZO1 protein, human