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Pigment Cell Res. 1999 Dec;12(6):344-54.

Sound needs sound melanocytes to be heard.

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Research Institute, Saitama Cancer Center, Ina, Saitama, Japan.


Intermediate cells in the stria vascularis of the mammalian cochlea are melanocytes, which contain melanin pigments and are capable of synthesizing melanin. These melanocytes are required for normal development of the cochlea, as evidenced by studies of mutant mice with congenital melanocyte anomalies. Melanocytes are also needed for developed cochleae to function normally, as evidenced by studies of mutant mice with late-onset melanocyte anomaly and humans with acquired melanocyte anomaly. Melanin, per se, does not seem to be essential for normal hearing function, but it may protect against traumata to the cochlea, e.g., noise and ototoxic aminoglycosides. Recent electrophysiological studies have revealed that strial intermediate cells are provided with specific ionic channels, such as inwardly rectifying K+ channels (Kir4.1) and voltage-dependent outwardly rectifying K+ channels. These channels may play central roles in strial function and thus in normal hearing.

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