Stretch-activated afferent neurons, such as those of mammalian muscle spindles, are essential for proprioception and motor co-ordination, but the underlying mechanisms of mechanotransduction are poorly understood. The dorsal bipolar dendritic (dbd) sensory neurons are putative stretch receptors in the Drosophila larval body wall. We have developed an in vivo protocol to obtain receptor potential recordings from intact dbd neurons in response to stretch. Receptor potential changes in dbd neurons in response to stretch showed a complex, dynamic profile with similar characteristics to those previously observed for mammalian muscle spindles. These profiles were reproduced by a general in silico model of stretch-activated neurons. This in silico model predicts an essential role for a mechanosensory cation channel (MSC) in all aspects of receptor potential generation. Using pharmacological and genetic techniques, we identified the putative mechanosensory channel, DmPiezo, as a strong candidate for this functional role in dbd neurons, with TRPA1 playing a subsidiary role. We also show that rat muscle spindles exhibit a ruthenium red-sensitive current, but found no expression evidence this corresponds to Piezo activity. In summary, we show that the dbd neuron is a stretch receptor and demonstrate that this neuron is a tractable model for investigating mechanisms of mechanotransduction.
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Piezo is essential for amiloride-sensitive stretch-activated mechanotransduction in larval Drosophila dorsal bipolar dendritic sensory neurons.