Birds, reptiles and insects have the ability to discriminate humidity levels that influence their survival and geographic distribution. Insects are particularly susceptible to humidity changes due to high surface area to volume ratios, but it remains unclear how humidity sensors transduce humidity signals. Here we identified Or42b-expressing olfactory sensory neurons, which are required for moisture attraction in Drosophila. The sensilla housing Or42b neurons show cuticular deformations upon moist air stimuli, indicating a conversion of humidity into mechanical force. Accordingly, we found Or42b neurons directly respond to humidity changes and rely on the mechanosensitive ion channel TMEM63 to mediate humidity sensing (hygrosensation). Expressing human TMEM63B in Tmem63 mutant flies rescued their defective phenotype in moisture attraction, demonstrating functional conservation. Thus, our results reveal a role of Tmem63 in hygrosensation and support the strategy to detect humidity by transforming it into a mechanical stimulus, which is unique in sensory transduction.
© 2022. The Author(s).