Recent advances in cochlear hair cell nanophysiology: subcellular compartmentalization of electrical signaling in compact sensory cells


Effertz T, Moser T, Oliver D


Faculty Reviews


Faculty Reviews  2020, 9:24.


In recent years, genetics, physiology, and structural biology have advanced into the molecular details of the sensory physiology of auditory hair cells. Inner hair cells (IHCs) and outer hair cells (OHCs) mediate two key functions: active amplification and non-linear compression of cochlear vibrations by OHCs and sound encoding by IHCs at their afferent synapses with the spiral ganglion neurons. OHCs and IHCs share some molecular physiology, e.g. mechanotransduction at the apical hair bundles, ribbon-type presynaptic active zones, and ionic conductances in the basolateral membrane. Unique features enabling their specific function include prestin-based electromotility of OHCs and indefatigable transmitter release at the highest known rates by ribbon-type IHC active zones. Despite their compact morphology, the molecular machineries that either generate electrical signals or are driven by these signals are essentially all segregated into local subcellular structures. This review provides a brief account on recent insights into the molecular physiology of cochlear hair cells with a specific focus on organization into membrane domains.


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