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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2008 Jun;9(2):215-24. doi: 10.1007/s10162-008-0114-2. Epub 2008 Apr 18.

Three-dimensional architecture of hair-bundle linkages revealed by electron-microscopic tomography.

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Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


The senses of hearing and balance rest upon mechanoelectrical transduction by the hair bundles of hair cells in the inner ear. Located at the apical cellular surface, each hair bundle comprises several tens of stereocilia and a single kinocilium that are interconnected by extracellular proteinaceous links. Using electron-microscopic tomography of bullfrog saccular sensory epithelia, we examined the three-dimensional structures of basal links, kinociliary links, and tip links. We observed significant differences in the appearances and dimensions of these three structures and found two distinct populations of tip links suggestive of the involvement of different proteins, splice variants, or protein-protein interactions. We noted auxiliary links connecting the upper portions of tip links to the taller stereocilia. Tip links and auxiliary links show a tendency to adopt a globular conformation when disconnected from the membrane surface.

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