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Biophys J. 2006 Jul 1;91(1):364-81. Epub 2006 Apr 7.

Lateral diffusion anisotropy and membrane lipid/skeleton interaction in outer hair cells.

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Center for Hearing and Communication Research, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


The organization of the plasma membrane of cells in lipid domains affects the way the membrane interacts with the underlying protein skeleton, which in turn affects the lateral mobility of lipid and protein molecules in the membrane. Membrane fluidity properties can be monitored by various approaches, the most versatile of which is fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP). We extended previous FRAP experiments on isolated cochlear outer hair cells (OHCs) by analyzing the two-dimensional pattern of lipid diffusion in the lateral membrane of these cells. We found that membrane lipid mobility in freshly isolated OHCs is orthotropic, diffusion being faster in the axial direction of the cell and slower in the circumferential direction. Increasing the cell's turgor pressure by osmotic challenge reduced the axial diffusion constant, but had only a slight effect on circumferential diffusion. Our results suggest that lipid mobility in the OHC plasma membrane is affected by the presence of the cell's orthotropic membrane skeleton. This effect could reflect interaction with spectrin filaments or with other membrane skeletal proteins. We also performed a number of FRAP measurements in temporal bone preparations preserving the structural integrity of the hearing organ. The diffusion rates measured for OHCs in this preparation were in good agreement with those obtained in isolated OHCs, and comparable to the mobility rates measured on the sensory inner hair cells. These observations support the idea that the plasma membranes of both types of hair cells share similar highly fluid phases in the intact organ. Lipid mobility was significantly slower in the membranes of supporting cells of the organ of Corti, which could reflect differences in lipid phase or stronger hindrance by the cytoskeleton in these membranes.

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