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Keywords:

  • platypus;
  • echidna;
  • cochlea;
  • hair cells;
  • stereocilia

Abstract

The organ of Corti and macula lagena were studied by scanning and transmission electron microscopy in two species of monotreme, the platypus and echidna. In both species, the organ of Corti had a fundamentally mammalian conformation, with distinct outer and inner hair cells, separated by a tunnel of Corti. However, unlike eutherian mammals, the monotremes had three or four rows of pillar cells, and four to five rows of inner hair cells. The organ of Corti was much shorter than in eutherian mammals, at 4.4 mm (platypus), and 7.6 mm (echidna). While the total number of outer hair cells (3,350 platypus, 5,050 echidna) was many fewer than in most eutherian mammals, the total number of inner hair cells (1,600 platypus, 2,700 echidna) was comparable with that in eutherian mammals. The stereocilia on both inner and outer hair cells underwent a systematic change in orientation across the cochlear duct, with those nearest the tunnel of Corti having their axis of symmetry oriented transversely across the duct, and those on the outer edge of the organ having the axis oriented nearly longitudinally along the duct. The macula lagena had signs of a vestibular epithelium, with tall bundles of stereocilia, a division into areas with bundles of opposing orientation, and type I and type II hair cells. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.