All cells are influenced by mechanical forces. In the brain, force-generating and load-bearing proteins twist, turn, ratchet, flex, compress, expand and bend to mediate neuronal signalling and plasticity. Although the functions of mechanosensitive proteins have been thoroughly described in classical sensory systems, the effects of endogenous mechanical energy on cellular function in the brain have received less attention, and many working models in neuroscience do not currently integrate principles of cellular mechanics. An understanding of cellular-mechanical concepts is essential to allow the integration of mechanobiology into ongoing studies of brain structure and function. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.