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J Physiol. 1992 Mar;448:73-98.

Ionic currents of outer hair cells isolated from the guinea-pig cochlea.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Medical School, Bristol.


1. Whole-cell currents were measured in outer hair cells isolated from each turn of the organ of Corti of the guinea-pig. 2. The slope input conductances at -70 mV of the cells ranged from 3.6 to 51 nS depending on the length of the cell. Shorter cells from the basal turns of the cochlea had the highest values. The membrane time constant of the cells varied from 3 to 0.2 ms from the apex to the base. 3. Irrespective of the position of the cells along the cochlea, three distinct currents were found. Each type of current was found in approximately the same proportion in all cells. 4. An outward K+ current was present which activated at potentials more positive than -35 mV. The current was sensitive to tetraethylammonium (30 mM), quinidine (100 microM) and nifedipine (50 microM). It could be removed by replacing external Ca2+ with Ba2+ or Mg2+. The current was also removed by substituting Nai+ or Csi+ for Ki+ pipette solution. This outwardly rectifying current appears similar to the calcium-activated K+ current described in other hair cells. 5. The main current present at membrane potentials from -90 mV to -50 mV was a second voltage-activated K+ current. It was 50% activated at -80 mV, and relaxed with a time constant of 20-40 ms on hyperpolarization to -120 mV. Near rest the kinetics were essentially time-dependent , but depended upon the external K+ concentration. The current was blocked by 5 mM external Cs+. 6. This current was highly selective for K+. Measured from reversal of the tail currents, the permeability ratio PK:PNa was approximately 30:1. Depolarization of the cell, presumed to lead to an elevation of intracellular calcium, produced a prolonged activation of the current. 7. A third current found in the cells was a cation current. By external ion replacement, the selectivity sequence was determined to be Ca2+ greater than Na+ approximately equal to K+ greater than choline+ greater than NMDG+ (respective permeabilities relative to Na: 2.9, 1.0, 0.99, 0.63 and 0.37). This current was reduced by external Ba2+ (3 mM) and by nifedipine (50 microM). The activation of this current appeared to depend upon raised levels of Cai2+. 8. These currents account for reported in vivo properties of cochlear outer hair cells as cells permeable to potassium at large negative resting potentials. The consequences for sound detection in the cochlea are briefly discussed.

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