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Adv Space Res. 2004;33(8):1416-20.

Efficacy of an ototoxic aminoglycoside (gentamicin) on the differentiation of the inner ear of cichlid fish.

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Zoological Institute, University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.


Previous investigations revealed that the growth of fish inner ear otoliths depends on the amplitude and the direction of gravity, thus suggesting the existence of a (negative) feedback mechanism. In the course of these experiments, it was shown that altered gravity both affected otolith size (and thus the provision of the proteinacious matrix) as well as the incorporation of calcium. It is hitherto unknown, as of whether sensory hair cells are involved either in the regulation of otolith growth or in the provision of otolithic material (such as protein or inorganic components) or even both. The ototoxic aminoglycoside gentamicin (GM) damages hair cells in many vertebrates (and is therefore used for the treatment of Meniere's disease in humans). The present study was thus designed to determine as of whether vestibular sensory cells are needed for otolith growth by applying GM in order to induce a (functionally relevant) loss of these cells. Developing cichlid fish Oreochromis mossambicus were therefore immersed in 120 mg/l GM for 10 or 21 days. At the beginning and at the end of the experimental periods, the fish were incubated in the calcium-tracer alizarin complexone (AC). After the experiment, otoliths were dissected and the area grown during GM-exposure (i.e., the area enclosed by the two AC labellings) was determined planimetrically. The results showed that incubating the animals in a GM-solution had no effect on otolith growth, but the development of otolith asymmetry was affected. Ultrastructural examinations of the sensory hair cells revealed that they had obviously not been affected by GM-treatment (no degenerative morphological features observed). Overall, the present results suggest that hair cells are not affected by GM concerning their possible role in (general) otolith growth, but that these cells indeed might have transitionally been impaired by GM resulting in a decreased capacity of regulating otolith symmetry.

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