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Keywords:

  • cochlea;
  • vestibule;
  • stereocilia;
  • cross-links;
  • hair cells

Abstract

The 275 kD hair cell antigen (HCA) is a protein that is specifically associated with the apical surface of sensory hair cells in the chick inner ear. A comparative study of the vestibular and auditory organs of the inner ear, using both wholemounts and cryosections double labelled for the HCA and F-actin, reveals that two distinct types of hair cells can be distinguished on the basis of antibody staining in each of the vestibular epithelia, One type of hair cell has the HCA restricted to the base of the stereocilia bundle and is found in the striolae of the maculae and in a large, centrally located region of each ampulla. The other type of hair cell is found in the extrastriolar regions of the maculae and the peripheral regions of the ampullae and has the HCA distributed over the entire surface of the stereocilia bundle. In the basilar papilla, the auditory epithelium of the chick inner ear, the HCA is, as in the striolar regions of the maculae, restricted to the base of the hair bundles. In all sensory epithelia the HCA is also present on the apical, nonstereociliary surface of the hair cells. Ultrastructural examination of the basilar papilla and the striolar and the extrastriolar regions of the lagenar macula after staining with ruthenium red and tannic acid shows that there are four morphologically different types of interstereociliary connectors (oblique tip connectors, horizontal tip connectors, shaft connectors and basal connectors) associated with the hair bundles. Oblique tip connectors and basal connectors are found on hair cells from all regions and have a similar distribution. Horizontal tip connectors are seen only on hair cells in the basilar papilla and the striolar region of the lagenar macula. Shaft connectors extend all the way to the tips of extrastriolar hair cell bundles, but extend only a short way up the bundles of hair cells in the basilar papilla and striolar region of the lagenar macula, Immunogold labelling confirms the results obtained with immunofluorescence microscopy and demonstrates that the distribution of the HCA on the surface of adjacent stereocilia correlates closely with that of the shaft connectors; i.e., immunostaining is observed up to the tips of the extrastriolar hair cell bundles, but is restricted to the lower regions of hair cell bundles in the striolar region and basilar papilla. Ruthenium red staining of immunogold labelled preparations further substantiates this correlation between the distribution of shaft connectors and the HCA. The results suggest that the HCA may be a component of a particular type of hair cell surface specialisation that, when present on adjacent the stereocilia, forms one kind of interstereociliary cross-link, the shaft connector. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.