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J Physiol. 2003 Mar 15;547(Pt 3):873-91. Epub 2003 Jan 31.

Cl- flux through a non-selective, stretch-sensitive conductance influences the outer hair cell motor of the guinea-pig.

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Department of Surgery (Otolaryngology), Yale University School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


Outer hair cells underlie high frequency cochlear amplification in mammals. Fast somatic motility can be driven by voltage-dependent conformational changes in the motor protein, prestin, which resides exclusively within lateral plasma membrane of the cell. Yet, how a voltage-driven motor could contribute to high frequency amplification, despite the low-pass membrane filter of the cell, remains an enigma. The recent identification of prestin's Cl- sensitivity revealed an alternative mechanism in which intracellular Cl- fluctuations near prestin could influence the motor. We report the existence of a stretch-sensitive conductance within the lateral membrane that passes anions and cations and is gated at acoustic rates. The resultant intracellular Cl- oscillations near prestin may drive motor protein transitions, as evidenced by pronounced shifts in prestin's state-probability function along the voltage axis. The sensitivity of prestin's state probability to intracellular Cl- levels betokens a more complicated role for Cl- than a simple extrinsic voltage sensor. Instead, we suggest an allosteric modulation of prestin by Cl- and other anions. Finally, we hypothesize that prestin sensitivity to anion flux through the mechanically activated lateral membrane can provide a driving force that circumvents the membrane's low-pass filter, thus permitting amplification at high acoustic frequencies.

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