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The ultrastructural distribution of prestin in outer hair cells: a post-embedding immunogold investigation of low-frequency and high-frequency regions of the rat cochlea


Professor Carole M. Hackney, as above.
and Professor Robert Fettiplace, as above.


Outer hair cells (OHCs) of the mammalian cochlea besides being sensory receptors also generate force to amplify sound-induced displacements of the basilar membrane thus enhancing auditory sensitivity and frequency selectivity. This force generation is attributable to the voltage-dependent contractility of the OHCs underpinned by the motile protein, prestin. Prestin is located in the basolateral wall of OHCs and is thought to alter its conformation in response to changes in membrane potential. The precise ultrastructural distribution of prestin was determined using post-embedding immunogold labelling and the density of the labelling was compared in low-frequency and high-frequency regions of the cochlea. The labelling was confined to the basolateral plasma membrane in hearing rats but declined towards the base of the cells below the nucleus. In pre-hearing animals, prestin labelling was lower in the membrane and also occurred in the cytoplasm, presumably reflecting its production during development. The densities of labelling in low-frequency and high-frequency regions of the cochlea were similar. Non-linear capacitance, thought to reflect charge movements during conformational changes in prestin, was measured in OHCs in isolated cochlear coils of hearing animals. The OHC non-linear capacitance in the same regions assayed in the immunolabelling was also similar in both the apex and base, with charge densities of 10 000/μm2 expressed relative to the lateral membrane area. The results suggest that prestin density, and by implication force production, is similar in low-frequency and high-frequency OHCs.