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Abstract

Nonjunctional and nonsynaptic membranes of hair cells in the chinchilla organ of Corti were examined using the freeze-fracture technique. Cy-toplasmic leaflets of the apical membranes of hair cells have particles, 6–12 nm in diameter, but many more particles are found on apical membranes of outer hair cells than on inner hair cells. Cytoplasmic leaflets of the lateral membranes of outer hair cells are covered with large particles, but the corresponding regions of the inner hair cell membrane have fewer particles and these are small or medium-sized. Two types of particle aggregate also distinguish this region of the inner hair cell. The first consists of patches of particles closely spaced in rec tilinear arrays. The second consists of parallel strands of widely spaced large particles similar in size, but not in distribution, to the large particles on the lateral membranes of the outer hair cells. The basal membrane of outer hair cells is distinguished from that of inner hair cells by plaques consisting of cross-hatched in-cisures in the external membrane leaflet. While the significance of these anatomical features is not yet apparent, they give the hair cell plasmalemma a richness of regional specialization found in few other cells and suggest that there are important functional differences between inner and outer hair cells.