Inner ear sensory hair cells convert mechanical stimuli into electrical signals. This conversion happens in the exquisitely mechanosensitive hair bundle that protrudes from the cell's apical surface. In mammals, cochlear hair bundles are composed of 50-100 actin-filled stereocilia, which are organized in three rows in a staircase fashion. Stereocilia actin filaments are uniformly oriented with their barbed ends toward stereocilia tips. During development, the actin core of each stereocilium undergoes elongation due to addition of actin monomers to the barbed ends of the filaments. Here we show that in the mouse cochlea the barbed end capping protein twinfilin 2 is present at the tips of middle and short rows of stereocilia from postnatal day (P) 5 onward, which correlates with a time period when these rows stop growing. The tall stereocilia rows, which do not display twinfilin 2 at their tips, continue to elongate between P5 and P15. When we expressed twinfilin 2 in LLC/PK1-CL4 (CL4) cells, we observed a reduction of espin-induced microvilli length, pointing to a potent function of twinfilin 2 in suppressing the elongation of actin filaments. Overexpression of twinfilin 2 in cochlear inner hair cells resulted in a significant reduction of stereocilia length. Our results suggest that twinfilin 2 plays a role in the regulation of stereocilia elongation by restricting excessive elongation of the shorter row stereocilia thereby maintaining the mature staircase architecture of cochlear hair bundles.
Auditory; Cochlea; Cytoskeleton; Actin; Mechanosensory; Cochlea
The quantitative trait locus ahl8 is a key contributor to the early-onset, age-related hearing loss of DBA/2J mice. A non-synonymous nucleotide substitution in the mouse fascin-2 gene (Fscn2) is responsible for this phenotype, confirmed by wild-type BAC transgene rescue of hearing loss in DBA/2J mice. In chickens and mice, FSCN2 protein is abundant in hair-cell stereocilia, the actin-rich structures comprising the mechanically sensitive hair bundle, and is concentrated towards stereocilia tips of the bundle's longest stereocilia. FSCN2 expression increases when these stereocilia differentially elongate, suggesting that FSCN2 controls filament growth, stiffens exposed stereocilia, or both. Because ahl8 accelerates hearing loss only in the presence of mutant cadherin 23, a component of hair-cell tip links, mechanotransduction and actin crosslinking must be functionally interrelated.
Hair cells; stereocilia; actin; actin crosslinkers; deafness; mutant mice
We assessed the involvement of harmonin-b, a submembranous protein containing PDZ domains, in the mechanoelectrical transduction machinery of inner ear hair cells. Harmonin-b is located in the region of the upper insertion point of the tip link that joins adjacent stereocilia from different rows and that is believed to gate transducer channel(s) located in the region of the tip link's lower insertion point. In Ush1cdfcr-2J/dfcr-2J mutant mice defective for harmonin-b, step deflections of the hair bundle evoked transduction currents with altered speed and extent of adaptation. In utricular hair cells, hair bundle morphology and maximal transduction currents were similar to those observed in wild-type mice, but adaptation was faster and more complete. Cochlear outer hair cells displayed reduced maximal transduction currents, which may be the consequence of moderate structural anomalies of their hair bundles. Their adaptation was slower and displayed a variable extent. The latter was positively correlated with the magnitude of the maximal transduction current, but the cells that showed the largest currents could be either hyperadaptive or hypoadaptive. To interpret our observations, we used a theoretical description of mechanoelectrical transduction based on the gating spring theory and a motor model of adaptation. Simulations could account for the characteristics of transduction currents in wild-type and mutant hair cells, both vestibular and cochlear. They led us to conclude that harmonin-b operates as an intracellular link that limits adaptation and engages adaptation motors, a dual role consistent with the scaffolding property of the protein and its binding to both actin filaments and the tip link component cadherin-23.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00424-009-0711-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Cochlea; Hair bundle; Vestibule; Harmonin; Mechanoelectrical transduction; Adaptation; Hair cell; Vestibular system
Mechanosensitive cilia are vital to signaling and development across many species. In sensory hair cells, sound and movement are transduced by apical hair bundles. Each bundle is comprised of a single primary cilium (kinocilium) flanked by multiple rows of actin-filled projections (stereocilia). Extracellular tip links that interconnect stereocilia are thought to gate mechanosensitive channels. In contrast to stereocilia, kinocilia are not critical for hair-cell mechanotransduction. However, by sequentially imaging the structure of hair bundles and mechanosensitivity of individual lateral-line hair cells in vivo, we uncovered a central role for kinocilia in mechanosensation during development. Our data demonstrate that nascent hair cells require kinocilia and kinocilial links for mechanosensitivity. Although nascent hair bundles have correct planar polarity, the polarity of their responses to mechanical stimuli is initially reversed. Later in development, a switch to correctly polarized mechanosensitivity coincides with the formation of tip links and the onset of tip link-dependent mechanotransduction.
In hair cells, mechanotransduction channels are gated by tip links, the extracellular filaments that consist of cadherin 23 (CDH23) and protocadherin 15 (PCDH15) and connect the stereocilia of each hair cell. However, which molecules mediate cadherin function at tip links is not known. Here we show that the PDZ-domain protein harmonin is a component of the upper tip-link density (UTLD), where CDH23 inserts into the stereociliary membrane. Harmonin domains that mediate interactions with CDH23 and F-actin control harmonin localization in stereocilia and are necessary for normal hearing. In mice expressing a mutant harmonin protein that prevents UTLD formation, the sensitivity of hair bundles to mechanical stimulation is reduced. We conclude that harmonin is a UTLD component and contributes to establishing the sensitivity of mechanotransduction channels to displacement.
harmonin; Usher Syndrome; mechanotransduction; stereocilia; hair cells
Mammalian hearing relies on a cochlear hydrodynamic sensor embodied in the inner
hair cell stereocilia bundle. It is presumed that acoustical stimuli induce a
fluid shear-driven motion between the tectorial membrane and the reticular
lamina to deflect the bundle. It is hypothesized that ion channels are opened by
molecular gates that sense tension in tip-links, which connect adjacent stepped
rows of stereocilia. Yet almost nothing is known about how the fluid and bundle
interact. Here we show using our microfluidics model how each row of stereocilia
and their associated tip links and gates move in response to an acoustical input
that induces an orbital motion of the reticular lamina. The model confirms the
crucial role of the positioning of the tectorial membrane in hearing, and
explains how this membrane amplifies and synchronizes the timing of peak tension
in the tip links. Both stereocilia rotation and length change are needed for
synchronization of peak tip link tension. Stereocilia length change occurs in
response to accelerations perpendicular to the oscillatory fluid shear flow.
Simulations indicate that nanovortices form between rows to facilitate diffusion
of ions into channels, showing how nature has devised a way to solve the
diffusive mixing problem that persists in engineered microfluidic devices.
Stereocilia, finger-like projections forming the hair bundle on the apical surface of sensory hair cells in the cochlea, are responsible for mechanosensation and ultimately the perception of sound. The actin cytoskeleton of the stereocilia contains hundreds of tightly cross-linked parallel actin filaments in a paracrystalline array and it is vital for their function. Although several genes have been identified and associated with stereocilia development, the molecular mechanisms responsible for stereocilia growth, maintenance and organisation of the hair bundle have not been fully resolved. Here we provide further characterisation of the stereocilia of the whirler mouse mutant. We found that a lack of whirlin protein in whirler mutants results in short stereocilia with larger diameters without a corresponding increase in the number of actin filaments in inner hair cells. However, a decrease in the actin filament packing density was evident in the whirler mutant. The electron-density at the tip of each stereocilium was markedly patchy and irregular in the whirler mutants compared with a uniform band in controls. The outer hair cell stereocilia of the whirler homozygote also showed an increase in diameter and variable heights within bundles. The number of outer hair cell stereocilia was significantly reduced and the centre-to-centre spacing between the stereocilia was greater than in the wildtype. Our findings suggest that whirlin plays an important role in actin filament packing and dynamics during postnatal stereocilium elongation.
stereocilia; actin filaments; deafness; whirlin; hair cells; inner ear; organ of Corti; cochlea
We have previously shown that the seemingly static paracrystalline actin core of hair cell stereocilia undergoes continuous turnover. Here, we used the same approach of transfecting hair cells with actin–green fluorescent protein (GFP) and espin-GFP to characterize the turnover process. Actin and espin are incorporated at the paracrystal tip and flow rearwards at the same rate. The flux rates (∼0.002–0.04 actin subunits s−1) were proportional to the stereocilia length so that the entire staircase stereocilia bundle was turned over synchronously. Cytochalasin D caused stereocilia to shorten at rates matching paracrystal turnover. Myosins VI and VIIa were localized alongside the actin paracrystal, whereas myosin XVa was observed at the tips at levels proportional to stereocilia lengths. Electron microscopy analysis of the abnormally short stereocilia in the shaker 2 mice did not show the characteristic tip density. We argue that actin renewal in the paracrystal follows a treadmill mechanism, which, together with the myosins, dynamically shapes the functional architecture of the stereocilia bundle.
hair cells; myosin XVa; myosin VIIa; espin; hearing
Stereocilia, the modified microvilli projecting from the apical surfaces of the sensory hair cells of the inner ear, are essential to the mechanoelectrical transduction process underlying hearing and balance. The actin-filled stereocilia on each hair cell are tethered together by fibrous links to form a highly patterned hair bundle. Although many structural components of hair bundles have been identified, little is known about the signaling mechanisms that regulate their development, morphology, and maintenance. Here, we describe two naturally occurring, allelic mutations that result in hearing and balance deficits in mice, named roundabout (rda) and roundabout-2J (rda2J). Positional cloning identified both as mutations of the mouse ELMO domain containing 1 gene (Elmod1), a poorly characterized gene with no previously reported mutant phenotypes. The rda mutation is a 138 kb deletion that includes exons 1–5 of Elmod1, and rda2J is an intragenic duplication of exons 3–8 of Elmod1. The deafness associated with these mutations is caused by cochlear hair cell dysfunction, as indicated by conspicuous elongations and fusions of inner hair cell stereocilia and progressive degeneration of outer hair cell stereocilia. Mammalian ELMO-family proteins are known to be involved in complexes that activate small GTPases to regulate the actin cytoskeleton during phagocytosis and cell migration. ELMOD1 and ELMOD2 recently were shown to function as GTPase-activating proteins (GAPs) for the Arf family of small G proteins. Our finding connecting ELMOD1 deficiencies with stereocilia dysmorphologies thus establishes a link between the Ras superfamily of small regulatory GTPases and the actin cytoskeleton dynamics of hair cell stereocilia.
In sensory hair cells of the cochlea, deflection of the stereociliary bundle results in direct mechanical gating of mechanoelectrical transduction channels, a function generally attributed to the tip link running between the tips of short stereocilia and the sides of adjacent taller ones. However, immunocytochemical experiments indicate that the channels may not be associated with the tip link but occur just below it in a region of contact between the stereocilia. To determine whether transduction channels in this location could be operated during physiologically appropriate deflections as effectively by shear displacement as if they were associated with the tip link, a two dimensional kinematic analysis of relative motion between stereocilia has been performed assuming contact between stereocilia is maintained during deflection. Bundle geometry and dimensions were determined from transmission electron micrographs of hair cells from several frequency locations between 0.27 and 13.00 kHz in the guinea-pig cochlea. The analysis indicates that for a 10 nm deflection of the tallest stereocilia of both inner and outer hair cells, i.e. within the range of the maximum sensitivity of mammalian hair bundles, the average shear displacement in the contact region would be 1.6 nm, but that it increases systematically towards higher frequency regions for outer hair cells. This displacement is comparable in magnitude to tip-link elongation for individual stereociliary pairs.
In vertebrates hearing is dependent upon the microvilli-like mechanosensory stereocilia and their length gradation. The staircase-like organization of the stereocilia bundle is dynamically maintained by variable actin turnover rates. Two unconventional myosins were previously implicated in stereocilia length regulation but the mechanisms of their action remain unknown. MyosinXVa is expressed in stereocilia tips at levels proportional to stereocilia length and its absence produces staircase-like bundles of very short stereocilia. MyosinVIIa localizes to the tips of the shorter stereocilia within bundles, and when absent, the stereocilia are abnormally long. We show here that myosinVIIa interacts with twinfilin-2, an actin binding protein, which inhibits actin polymerization at the barbed end of the filament, and that twinfilin localization in stereocilia overlaps with myosinVIIa. Exogenous expression of myosinVIIa in fibroblasts results in a reduced number of filopodia and promotes accumulation of twinfilin-2 at the filopodia tips. We hypothesize that the newly described interaction between myosinVIIa and twinfilin-2 is responsible for the establishment and maintenance of slower rates of actin turnover in shorter stereocilia, and that interplay between complexes of myosinVIIa/twinfilin-2 and myosinXVa/whirlin is responsible for stereocilia length gradation within the bundle staircase.
Hair cells detect vibrations of their stereociliary bundle by activation of mechanically-sensitive transducer (MT) channels. Although evidence suggests the MT channels are near the stereociliary tops and are opened by force imparted by tip links connecting contiguous stereocilia, the exact channel site remains controversial. Fast confocal imaging of fluorescence changes reflecting calcium entry during bundle stimulation was used to localize MT channels. Calcium signals were visible in single stereocilia of rat cochlear hair cells and were up to ten times larger and faster in the second and third stereociliary rows than in the tallest first row. The number of functional stereocilia was proportional to MT current amplitude indicating about two channels/stereocilium. Comparable results were obtained in outer hair cells. The observations, supported by theoretical simulations, suggest there are no functional MT channels in first row stereocilia and imply the channels are present only at the bottom of the tip links.
Cadherin 23 and protocadherin 15 are components of tip links, fine filaments that interlink the stereocilia of hair cells and are believed to gate the hair cell’s mechanotransducer channels. Tip links are aligned along the hair bundle’s axis of mechanosensitivity, stretching obliquely from the top of one stereocilium to the side of an adjacent, taller stereocilium. In guinea-pig auditory hair cells, tip links are polarised with cadherin 23 at the upper end and protocadherin 15 at the lower end where the transducer channel is located. Double immunogold labelling of avian hair cells was used to study the distribution of these two proteins in kinocilial links, a link type that attaches the tallest stereocilia of the hair bundle to the kinocilium. In the kinocilial links of vestibular hair bundles, cadherin 23 localises to the stereocilium and protocadherin 15 to the kinocilium. The two cadherins are therefore asymmetrically distributed within the kinocilial links but of a polarity that is, within those links that are aligned along the hair bundle’s axis of sensitivity, reversed relative to that of tip links. Conventional transmission electron microscopy of hair bundles fixed in the presence of tannic acid reveals a distinct density in the 120-130 nm long kinocilial links that is located 35-40 nm from the kinociliary membrane. The location of this density is consistent with it being the site at which interactions occur in an in trans configuration between the opposing N-termini of homodimeric forms of cadherin 23 and protocadherin 15.
Hair cell; mechanotransduction; stereocilia; cadherin 23; protocadherin 15
Cadherin 23 and protocadherin 15 are components of tip links, fine filaments that interlink the stereocilia of hair cells and are believed to gate the hair cell's mechanotransducer channels. Tip links are aligned along the hair bundle's axis of mechanosensitivity, stretching obliquely from the top of one stereocilium to the side of an adjacent, taller stereocilium. In guinea pig auditory hair cells, tip links are polarized with cadherin 23 at the upper end and protocadherin 15 at the lower end, where the transducer channel is located. Double immunogold labeling of avian hair cells was used to study the distribution of these two proteins in kinocilial links, a link type that attaches the tallest stereocilia of the hair bundle to the kinocilium. In the kinocilial links of vestibular hair bundles, cadherin 23 localizes to the stereocilium and protocadherin 15 to the kinocilium. The two cadherins are therefore asymmetrically distributed within the kinocilial links but of a polarity that is, within those links that are aligned along the hair bundle's axis of sensitivity, reversed relative to that of tip links. Conventional transmission electron microscopy of hair bundles fixed in the presence of tannic acid reveals a distinct density in the 120–130 nm long kinocilial links that is located 35–40 nm from the kinociliary membrane. The location of this density is consistent with it being the site at which interactions occur in an in trans configuration between the opposing N-termini of homodimeric forms of cadherin 23 and protocadherin 15. J. Comp. Neurol. 518:4288–4297, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
hair cell; mechanotransduction; stereocilia; cadherin 23; protocadherin 15
The senses of hearing and balance rest upon mechanoelectrical transduction by the hair bundles of hair cells in the inner ear. Located at the apical cellular surface, each hair bundle comprises several tens of stereocilia and a single kinocilium that are interconnected by extracellular proteinaceous links. Using electron-microscopic tomography of bullfrog saccular sensory epithelia, we examined the three-dimensional structures of basal links, kinociliary links, and tip links. We observed significant differences in the appearances and dimensions of these three structures and found two distinct populations of tip links suggestive of the involvement of different proteins, splice variants, or protein–protein interactions. We noted auxiliary links connecting the upper portions of tip links to the taller stereocilia. Tip links and auxiliary links show a tendency to adopt a globular conformation when disconnected from the membrane surface.
ankle link; auditory system; basal link; kinociliary link; kinocilium; stereocilium; tip link; vestibular system
Inner ear hair cell mechanoelectrical transduction is mediated by a largely unidentified multi-protein complex associated with the stereociliary tips of hair bundles. One identified component of tip links, which are the extracellular filamentous connectors implicated in gating the mechanoelectrical transduction channels, is the transmembrane protein Cadherin 23 (Cdh23), more specifically, the hair cell-specific Cdh23(+68) splice variant. Using the intracellular domain of Cdh23(+68) as bait, we identified in a cochlear cDNA library MAGI-1, a membrane-associated guanylate kinase (MAGUK) protein. MAGI-1 binds via its PDZ4 domain to a carboxyl-terminal PDZ binding site on Cdh23. MAGI-1 immunoreactivity was detectable throughout neonatal stereocilia in a similar distribution as Cdh23, and as development proceeded, MAGI-1 occurred in a punctate staining pattern on stereocilia, which was maintained into adulthood. Previous reports suggest that Cdh23 interacts via an internal PDZ binding site with the PDZ1 domain of the stereociliary protein harmonin, and potentially via a weaker binding of its carboxyl-terminus with harmonin’s PDZ2 domain. We propose that MAGI-1 has the ability to replace harmonin’s PDZ2 binding at Cdh23′s carboxyl-terminus. Moreover, the strong interaction between PDZ1 of harmonin and Cdh23 is interrupted by a 35-amino acid insertion in the hair cell-specific Cdh23(+68) splice variant, which puts forward MAGI-1 as an attractive candidate for an intracellular scaffolding partner of this tip link protein. Our results consequently support a role of MAGI-1 in the tip link complex where it could provide a sturdy connection with the cytoskeleton and with other components of the mechanoelectrical transduction complex.
Cochlea; Hair cell; Inner ear; Mechanotransduction; Protocadherin 15; Usher syndrome
Cochlear hair cells transduce mechanical stimuli into electrical activity. The site of hair cell transduction is the hair bundle, an array of stereocilia with different height arranged in a staircase. Tip links connect the apex of each stereocilium to the side of its taller neighbor. The hair bundle and tip links of hair cells are susceptible to acoustic trauma and ototoxic drugs. It has been shown that hair cells in lower vertebrates and in the mammalian vestibular system may survive bundle loss and undergo self-repair of the stereocilia. Our goals were to determine whether cochlear hair cells could survive the trauma and whether the tip link and/or the hair bundle could be regenerated. We simulated the acoustic trauma-induced tip link damage or stereociliary loss by disrupting tip links or ablating the hair bundles in the cultured organ of Corti from neonatal gerbils. Hair-cell fate and stereociliary morphology and function were examined using confocal and scanning electron microscopies and electrophysiology. Most bundleless hair cells survived and developed for about 2 weeks. However, no spontaneous hair-bundle regeneration was observed. When tip links were ruptured, repair of tip links and restoration of mechanotransduction were observed in less than 24 hours. Our study suggests that the dynamic nature of the hair cell's transduction apparatus is retained despite the fact that regeneration of the hair bundle is lost in mammalian cochlear hair cells.
hair cells; repair; stereocilia; tip links; gerbil; culture
Mechanotransduction, the conversion of a mechanical stimulus into an electrical signal is critical for our ability to hear and to maintain balance. Recent findings indicate that two members of the cadherin superfamily are components of the mechanotransduction machinery in sensory hair cells of the vertebrate inner ear. These studies show that cadherin 23 (CDH23) and protocadherin 15 (PCDH15) form several of the extracellular filaments that connect the stereocilia and kinocilium of a hair cell into a bundle. One of these filaments is the tip link that has been proposed to gate the mechanotransduction channel in hair cells. The extracellular domains of CDH23 and PCDH15 differ in their structure from classical cadherins and their cytoplasmic domains bind to distinct effectors, suggesting that evolutionary pressures have shaped the two cadherins for their function in mechanotransduction.
Tip links are extracellular filaments that connect pairs of hair cell stereocilia and convey tension to mechanosensitive channels. Recent evidence suggests that tip links are formed by calcium-dependent interactions between the N-terminal domains of cadherin-23 (CDH23) and protocadherin-15 (PCDH15). Mutations in either CDH23 or PCDH15 cause deafness in mice and humans indicating the molecules are required for normal inner ear function. However, there is little physiological evidence to support a direct role for CDH23 and PCDH15 in hair-cell mechanotransduction. To investigate the contributions of CDH23 and PCDH15 to mechanotransduction and tip link formation we examined outer hair cells of mouse cochleas during development and following chemical disruption of tip links. We found that tip links and mechanotransduction with all the qualitative properties of mature transduction recovered within 24 hours after disruption. To probe tip link formation we measured transduction currents following extracellular application of recombinant CDH23 and PCDH15 fragments, which included putative interaction domains (EC1). Both fragments inhibited development and regeneration of transduction but did not disrupt transduction in mature cells. PCDH15 fragments that carried a mutation in EC1 that causes deafness in humans did not inhibit transduction development or regeneration. Immunolocalization revealed wild-type fragments bound near the tips of hair cell stereocilia. Scanning electron micrographs revealed that hair bundles exposed to fragments had a reduced number of linkages aligned along the bundle’s morphological axis of sensitivity. Together, the data provide direct evidence implicating CDH23 and PCDH15 proteins in the formation of tip links during development and regeneration of mechanotransduction.
Mechanotransduction; adaptation; hair cell; cochlea; auditory; hearing; deafness; tip link; Cdh23; Pcdh15
We have developed a bacterial artificial chromosome transgenesis approach that allowed the expression of myosin VIIa from the mouse X chromosome. We demonstrated the complementation of the Myo7a null mutant phenotype producing a fine mosaic of two types of sensory hair cells within inner ear epithelia of hemizygous transgenic females due to X inactivation. Direct comparisons between neighboring auditory hair cells that were different only with respect to myosin VIIa expression revealed that mutant stereocilia are significantly longer than those of their complemented counterparts. Myosin VIIa-deficient hair cells showed an abnormally persistent tip localization of whirlin, a protein directly linked to elongation of stereocilia, in stereocilia. Furthermore, myosin VIIa localized at the tips of all abnormally short stereocilia of mice deficient for either myosin XVa or whirlin. Our results strongly suggest that myosin VIIa regulates the establishment of a setpoint for stereocilium heights, and this novel role may influence their normal staircase-like arrangement within a bundle.
When the tip of a hair bundle is deflected by a sensory stimulus, the stereocilia pivot as a unit, producing a shearing displacement between adjacent tips. It is not clear how stereocilia can stick together laterally but still shear. We used dissociated hair cells from the bullfrog saccule and high-speed video imaging to characterize this sliding adhesion. Movement of individual stereocilia was proportional to height, indicating that stereocilia pivot at their basal insertion points. All stereocilia moved by approximately the same angular deflection, and the same motion was observed at 1, 20 and 700 Hz stimulus frequency. Motions were consistent with a geometric model that assumes the stiffness of lateral links holding stereocilia together is >1000 times the pivot stiffness of stereocilia and that these links can slide in the plane of the membrane—in essence, that stereocilia shear without separation. The same motion was observed when bundles were moved perpendicular to the tip links, or when tip links, ankle links and shaft connectors were cut, ruling out these links as the basis for sliding adhesion. Stereocilia rootlets are angled towards the center of the bundle, tending to push stereocilia tips together for small deflections. However, stereocilia remained cohesive for deflections of up to ±35°, ruling out rootlet prestressing as the basis for sliding adhesion. These observations suggest that horizontal top connectors mediate a sliding adhesion. They also indicate that all transduction channels of a hair cell are mechanically in parallel, an arrangement that may enhance amplification in the inner ear.
stereocilia; hair cell; cell adhesion
Sensory hair bundles in the inner ear are composed of stereocilia that can be interconnected by a variety of different link types, including tip links, horizontal top connectors, shaft connectors, and ankle links. The ankle link antigen is an epitope specifically associated with ankle links and the calycal processes of photoreceptors in chicks. Mass spectrometry and immunoblotting were used to identify this antigen as the avian ortholog of the very large G-protein-coupled receptor VLGR1, the product of the Usher syndrome USH2C (Mass1) locus. Like ankle links, Vlgr1 is expressed transiently around the base of developing hair bundles in mice. Ankle links fail to form in the cochleae of mice carrying a targeted mutation in Vlgr1 (Vlgr1/del7TM), and the bundles become disorganized just after birth. FM1-43 [N-(3-triethylammonium)propyl)-4-(4-(dibutylamino)styryl) pyridinium dibromide] dye loading and whole-cell recordings indicate mechanotransduction is impaired in cochlear, but not vestibular, hair cells of early postnatal Vlgr1/del7TM mutant mice. Auditory brainstem recordings and distortion product measurements indicate that these mice are severely deaf by the third week of life. Hair cells from the basal half of the cochlea are lost in 2-month-old Vlgr1/del7TM mice, and retinal function is mildly abnormal in aged mutants. Our results indicate that Vlgr1 is required for formation of the ankle link complex and the normal development of cochlear hair bundles.
cochlea; hair cell; Usher syndrome; knock-out mice; GPCR; retina
Although outer hair cells (OHCs) play a key role in cochlear amplification, it is not fully understood how they amplify sound signals by more than 100 fold. Two competing or possibly complementary mechanisms, stereocilia-based and somatic electromotility-based amplification, have been considered. Lacking knowledge about the exceptionally rich protein networks in the OHC plasma membrane, as well as related protein-protein interactions, limits our understanding of cochlear function. Therefore, we focused on finding protein partners for two important membrane proteins: Cadherin 23 (cdh23) and prestin. Cdh23 is one of the tip-link proteins involved in transducer function, a key component of mechanoelectrical transduction and stereocilia-based amplification. Prestin is a basolateral membrane protein responsible for OHC somatic electromotility.
Using the membrane-based yeast two-hybrid system to screen a newly built cDNA library made predominantly from OHCs, we identified two completely different groups of potential protein partners using prestin and cdh23 as bait. These include both membrane bound and cytoplasmic proteins with 12 being de novo gene products with unknown function(s). In addition, some of these genes are closely associated with deafness loci, implying a potentially important role in hearing. The most abundant prey for prestin (38%) is composed of a group of proteins involved in electron transport, which may play a role in OHC survival. The most abundant group of cdh23 prey (55%) contains calcium-binding domains. Since calcium performs an important role in hair cell mechanoelectrical transduction and amplification, understanding the interactions between cdh23 and calcium-binding proteins should increase our knowledge of hair cell function at the molecular level.
The results of this study shed light on some protein networks in cochlear hair cells. Not only was a group of de novo genes closely associated with known deafness loci identified, but the data also indicate that the hair cell tip link interacts directly with calcium binding proteins. The OHC motor protein, prestin, also appears to be associated with electron transport proteins. These unanticipated results open potentially fruitful lines of investigation into the molecular basis of cochlear amplification.
Ezrin/radixin/moesin (ERM) proteins cross-link actin filaments to plasma membranes to integrate the function of cortical layers, especially microvilli. We found that in cochlear and vestibular sensory hair cells of adult wild-type mice, radixin was specifically enriched in stereocilia, specially developed giant microvilli, and that radixin-deficient (Rdx−/−) adult mice exhibited deafness but no obvious vestibular dysfunction. Before the age of hearing onset (∼2 wk), in the cochlea and vestibule of Rdx−/− mice, stereocilia developed normally in which ezrin was concentrated. As these Rdx−/− mice grew, ezrin-based cochlear stereocilia progressively degenerated, causing deafness, whereas ezrin-based vestibular stereocilia were maintained normally in adult Rdx−/− mice. Thus, we concluded that radixin is indispensable for the hearing ability in mice through the maintenance of cochlear stereocilia, once developed. In Rdx−/− mice, ezrin appeared to compensate for radixin deficiency in terms of the development of cochlear stereocilia and the development/maintenance of vestibular stereocilia. These findings indicated the existence of complicate functional redundancy in situ among ERM proteins.
ERM; radixin; stereocilia; cochlea; deafness
Sound perception requires functional hair cell mechanotransduction (MET) machinery, including the MET channels and tip-link proteins. Prior work showed that uptake of ototoxic aminoglycosides (AG) into hair cells requires functional MET channels. In this study, we examined whether tip-link proteins, including Cadherin 23 (Cdh23), regulate AG entry into hair cells. Using time-lapse microscopy on cochlear explants, we found rapid uptake of gentamicin-conjugated Texas Red (GTTR) into hair cells from three-day-old Cdh23+/+ and Cdh23v2J/+ mice, but failed to detect GTTR uptake in Cdh23v2J/v2J hair cells. Pre-treatment of wildtype cochleae with the calcium chelator 1,2-bis(o-aminophenoxy) ethane-N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid (BAPTA) to disrupt tip-links also effectively reduced GTTR uptake into hair cells. Both Cdh23v2J/v2J and BAPTA-treated hair cells were protected from degeneration caused by gentamicin. Six hours after BAPTA treatment, GTTR uptake remained reduced in comparison to controls; by 24 hours, drug uptake was comparable between untreated and BAPTA-treated hair cells, which again became susceptible to cell death induced by gentamicin. Together, these results provide genetic and pharmacologic evidence that tip-links are required for AG uptake and toxicity in hair cells. Because tip-links can spontaneously regenerate, their temporary breakage offers a limited time window when hair cells are protected from AG toxicity.