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J Comp Neurol. 2002 Aug 12;450(1):94-102.

Elongation of hair cell stereocilia is defective in the mouse mutant whirler.

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MRC Institute of Hearing Research, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, United Kingdom.


The recessive mouse mutant whirler (wi) shows no response to sound and exhibits circling and head-tossing behaviour, indicative of both auditory and vestibular dysfunction. The wi mutation maps genetically to mouse chromosome 4. We examined the organ of Corti of whirler mutants to explore the possibility that the wi mutation affects sensory hair cells. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) reveals that the specialised microvilli (stereocilia) that are projected by the sensory hair cells and are vital for sound transduction are abnormal in wi homozygotes. Specifically, wi homozygous inner hair cell (IHC) stereocilia are approximately half the length of equivalent stereocilia in heterozygous littermates. They are arranged normally into ranks, but the gradation in height and width of stereocilia in adjacent ranks is less prominent in wi homozygotes. Analysis of IHC stereocilia during the course of their development shows that, by embryonic day 18.5, mutant stereocilia are already significantly shorter than those in controls. Mutant stereocilia elongate at a normal rate, at least until postnatal day 1, but prematurely stop elongating between postnatal days 1 and 4. Stereocilia length then decreases. At postnatal day 15, outer hair cell (OHC) stereocilia in wi homozygotes appear short and are arranged in a rounded, "U" shape rather than the normal "W" or "V" shape. Eventually, both IHCs and OHCs degenerate. We show that the whirler locus encodes a protein(s) required for the elongation and maintenance of IHC and OHC stereocilia.

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