"I worked day and night for years on this
discovery.There's nothing more exciting than
understanding how this world works and
I'm very proud of this breakthrough,"

- Professor Boris Martinac 

Professor Boris Martinac

Head, Mechanobiology Laboratory

Research overview

Research Areas

  • Structure and function of mechanosensitive ion channels
  • Lipid - mechanosensitive channel interactions
  • Mechano-electric feedback in the heart
  • Mechanosensory transduction in chondrocytes
  • Membrane mechanics

Research Overview

Research in the Martinac laboratory focuses on ion-channel mediated mechanosensory transduction processes in living cells from bacteria to humans. Mechanosensitive ion channels have been identified as the primary molecular transducers of mechanical force that function in diverse physiological processes, including touch, hearing, blood pressure regulation and bone development. It has been recognised that aberrant mechanosensitive ion channels contribute to the pathology of disease, including heart dysfunction and osteoarthritis, which are specific research topics the Martinac Laboratory are working on. The laboratory works on these topics because there is currently a limited understanding of the role these ion channels play in causing heart and cardiovascular disease and understanding what happens when heart cells are stretched, for example during heart failure or when a patient has high blood pressure. Professor Martinac and his team are working on which role mechanosensitive ion channels play in mechano-electrical transduction in chondrocytes, the cells responsible for the homeostatic maintenance of cartilage, a resilient and flexible connective tissue that covers and protects the ends of bones at the joints. In addition, they study bacterial mechanosensitive channels, which have over many years been established as excellent models of molecular mechanisms underlying mechanotransduction in living organisms.

research projects

There are 4 key projects underway in the Mechanobiology Laboratory, led by Professor Boris Martinac;

1. Unravelling mechanotransduction pathways in the heart

The aim of this project is to identify a physiological link between cardiac pressure overload and TRP-type ion channels, which may reveal a molecular origin of cardiac remodelling that promotes hypertrophy and arrhythmogenesis.

2. Molecular force sensing mechanisms of Piezo mechanosensitive ion channels

This project focuses on the structure and function of recently identified family of Piezo mechanosensitive channels, which play a crucial role in senses of touch, pain and blood-pressure regulation. The aim of the project is to uncover how different lipids, cytoskeletal proteins and extracellular matrix modulate and alter the function of Piezo channels. 

3. Mechanoelectrical transduction in chondrocytes

This project aims to elucidate the contribution of Piezo1 and TRPV4 ion channels to chondrocyte mechanotransduction in mice. It investigates the impact of the cytoskeleton and structure of the extracellular matrix on chondrocyte mechanotransduction to determine the link between the TRPV4/Piezo1-mediated and integrin-mediated mechanotransduction.

4. Biophysics of bacterial MS channels MscL, MscS and MscCG

This project aims to elucidate how mechanosensitive channel proteins of different architecture translate mechanical force transmitted through the membrane lipid bilayer into MS channel protein conformational changes, which is currently an outstanding question of high significance for the mechanotransduction research field.

Laboratory members & collaborators


Paul Rohde, Laboratory Manager

 Yoshitaka Nakayama, Senior Postdoctoral Scientist 

 Charles D Cox, Senior Postdoctoral Scientist 

 Yury Nikolaev, PhD Student 

 Pietro Ridone, PhD Student 

Jane Yu, Senior Research Scientist

Ishan Ghai, Postdoctoral Scientist 


Prof David Saint, University of Adelaide

Dr Kate Poole, University of New South Wales 

A/Prof Shireen Lamande, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Prof Robert Parton, IMB University of Queensland

Prof Glenn King, IMB University of Queensland

Prof Rodney Croft, University of Wollongong

Prof Derek Laver, University of Newcastle

Dr Md Shahir Hossain, University of Wollongong

Dr Nazim Khan, University of Western Australia

Dr Ben Corry, The Australian National University 

Prof Eduardo Perozo, University of Chicago

Prof Philip Gottlieb, SUNY Buffalo

Prof Oliver Friedrich, Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg

Prof Janet Wood, University of Guelph

Prof Hisashi Kawasaki, Tokyo Denki University

Prof Masahiro Sokabe, University of Nagoya

Prof Anne Ulrich and Dr Stephan Grage, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Dr Massimo Vassalli, CNR Genova

Assistant Professor Valeria Vasque,z University of Tennessee

Assistant Professor Julio Romero, University of Tennessee

Prof Bailong Xiao, Tsinghua University

Prof Christine Ziegler, University of Regensburg

Prof Makoto Nishiyama, University of Tokyo

Prof David Krizaj, University of Utah

Dr Radomir Slavchov, Sofia University

publication highlights

1. Battle, A.R., Petrov, E., Pal, P. and Martinac, B. (2009) Rapid and improved reconstitution of           bacterial mechanosensitive ion channel proteins MscS and MscL into liposomes using a          modified sucrose method. FEBS Letters 583, 407-412.

2. Corry, B., Hurst, A.C., Pal, P, Nomura, T., Rigby, P. and Martinac, B. (2010) Open channel structure of MscL determined from FRET confocal microscopy and simulation. J. Gen. Physiol. 136:483-494.

3. Grage, S.L., Keleshian, A.M., Turdzeladze, T., Battle, A.R., Tay, W.C., May, R.P., Holt, S.A., Antoranz Contera, S., Haertlein, M., Moulin, M., Pal, P., Rohde, P.R., Forsyth, V.T., Watts, A, Huang, K. C., Ulrich, A.S. and Martinac, B. (2011) Bilayer-mediated clustering and functional interaction of MscL channels. Biophys. J. 100: 1252-1260, 2011 (Featured Article in Research Highlights, Biophys J issue of 2nd March, 2011).

4. Nomura, T., Cranfield, C.G., Deplazes, E., Owen, D.M., Macmillan, A., Battle, A.R., Constantine, M., Sokabe, M. and Martinac, B. (2012) Differential effects of lipids and lyso-lipids on the mechanosensitivity of the mechanosensitive channels MscL and MscS. Proc.Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109: 8770-8775.

5. Petrov, E., Palanivelu, D., Nomura, T., Constantine, M., Rohde, P.R., Cox, C.D., Minor, D.L. Jr. and Martinac, B. (2013) Functional characterization of the MscS-like mechanosensitive channel from Silicibacter pomeroyi. Biophys. J. 104(7): 1426 – 1434 (accompanied by a New & Notable editorial).

6. Cox, C.D., Nomura, T., Ziegler, C.S. Campbell, A.K., Wann, K.T. and Martinac, B. (2013)   Selectivity mechanism of the mechanosensitive channel MscS revealed by probing channel subconducting states. Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3137.

7. Bavi, N., Nakayama, Y., Bavi, O., Cox, C., Qin, Q.-H. and Martinac, B. (2014) Biophysical implications of lipid bilayer rheometry for mechanosensitive channels. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 111: 13864-13869.

8. Wang, W., Liu, Y., DeBerg, H.A., Nomura, T., Tonks Hoffman, M., Rohde, P.R., Schulten, K., Martinac, B. and Selvin, P.R. (2014) Single Molecule FRET Reveals Pore Size and Opening Mechanism of MscL. eLife 3: e01834.

9. Nomura, T., Cox, C.D., Bavi, N., Sokabe, M. and Martinac, B. (2015) Unidirectional incorporation of a bacterial mechanosensitive channel into liposomal membranes. FASEB J. 29(10): 4334-4345.

10. Cox, C.D., Bae, C., Ziegler, C., Hartley, S., Nikolova-Krstevski, V., Rohde, P.R., Ng, C.-A., Sachs, F., Gottlieb. P.A. and Martinac, B. (2016) Removal of the mechanoprotective influence of the cytoskeleton reveals PIEZO1 is gated by bilayer tension. Nature Comms 7:10366, doi:10.1038/ncomms10366.

11. Bavi, N., Cortes, M.D., Cox, C.D., Rohde, P.R., Liu, W., Deitmer, J.W., Bavi, O., Strop, P., Hill, A.P., Rees, D., Corry, B., Perozo, E. and Martinac, B. (2016) The role of MscL amphipathic N terminus indicates a blueprint for bilayer-mediated gating of mechanosensitive channels. Nature Comms 7: 11984, doi:10.1038/ncomms11984.

12. Syeda, S., Florendo, M.N., Cox, C.D., Kefauver, J., Santos, J.S., Martinac, B. and Patapoutian, A. (2016) Piezo1 channels are inherently mechanosensitive. 17(7): 1739-1746; doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.10.033.'

13. Rosholm, K.R., Baker, M., Ridone, P., Nakayama, Y., Rohde, P.R., Cuello, L.G., Lee, L.K. and Martinac, B. (2017) Activation of the mechanosensitive ion channel MscL by 3 mechanical stimulation of supported Droplet-Hydrogel bilayers. Scientific Reports 7:45180.

14. Kung, C., Martinac, B. and Sukharev, S. (2010) Mechanosensitive channels in microbes. Ann. Rev. Microbiol. 64: 313 – 329.

15. Martinac, B.  (2011) Peter Lauf Lecture: Bacterial mechanosensitive channels as a paradigm for mechanosensory transduction. Cell Physiol. Biochem. 28(6): p. 1051-1160.

16. Cox, C.D., Nakayama, Y., Nomura, T. and Martinac, B. (2015) The evolutionary ‘tinkering’ of MscS-like channels: generation of structural and functional diversity. Pflügers Archiv –Eur. J. Physiol. 467(1):3-13.

17. Bavi, N., Cox, C.D., Perozo, E. and Martinac, B. (2016) Toward a structural blueprint for bilayer-mediated channel mechanosensitivity. Channels 11(2): 91-93, DOI: 10.1080/19336950.

18. Macmillan, A., Cranfield, C.G. and Martinac, B. (2014) Fluorescence Methods for Monitoring Mechanosensitive Channels. In: CRC Handbook of Imaging in Biological Mechanics (Corey P. Neu and Guy M. Genin, eds), Chapter 34, pp. 425-431, CRC Press.

19. Martinac, B. and Cox, C.D. (2017) Mechanosensory transduction: Focus on ion channels Comprehensive Biophysics (Chapter 08094) (in press).

20. Cox, C.D., Bavi, N. and Martinac, B. (2017) Origin of the force: The Force-from-lipids principle applied to Piezo channels. Current Topics in Membranes: CTM 79 Piezo Channels (Chapter 0003) (in press). 

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