Outer hair cell (OHC) or prestin-based electromotility is an active cochlear amplifier in the mammalian inner ear that can increase hearing sensitivity and frequency selectivity. In situ, Deiters supporting cells are well-coupled by gap junctions and constrain OHCs standing on the basilar membrane. Here, we report that both electrical and mechanical stimulations in Deiters cells (DCs) can modulate OHC electromotility. There was no direct electrical conductance between the DCs and the OHCs. However, depolarization in DCs reduced OHC electromotility associated nonlinear capacitance (NLC) and distortion products. Increase in the turgor pressure of DCs also shifted OHC NLC to the negative voltage direction. Destruction of the cytoskeleton in DCs or dissociation of the mechanical-coupling between DCs and OHCs abolished these effects, indicating the modulation through the cytoskeleton activation and DC-OHC mechanical coupling rather than via electric field potentials. We also found that changes in gap junctional coupling between DCs induced large membrane potential and current changes in the DCs and shifted OHC NLC. Uncoupling of gap junctions between DCs shifted NLC to the negative direction. These data indicate that DCs not only provide a physical scaffold to support OHCs but also can directly modulate OHC electromotility through the DC-OHC mechanical coupling. Our findings reveal a new mechanism of cochlear supporting cells and gap junctional coupling to modulate OHC electromotility and eventually hearing sensitivity in the inner ear.

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Published in PLoS One, v. 4, no. 11, p. 7923.

© 2009 Yu, Zhao. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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