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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Feb 23;107(8):3864-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0906765107. Epub 2010 Feb 4.

Mechanical amplification by hair cells in the semicircular canals.

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  • 1University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84013, USA.


Sensory hair cells are the essential mechanotransducers of the inner ear, responsible not only for the transduction of sound and motion stimuli but also, remarkably, for nanomechanical amplification of sensory stimuli. Here we show that semicircular canal hair cells generate a mechanical nonlinearity in vivo that increases sensitivity to angular motion by amplification at low stimulus strengths. Sensitivity at high stimulus strengths is linear and shows no evidence of amplification. Results suggest that the mechanical work done by hair cells contributes approximately 97 zJ/cell of amplification per stimulus cycle, improving sensitivity to angular velocity stimuli below approximately 5 degrees /s (0.3-Hz sinusoidal motion). We further show that mechanical amplification can be inhibited by the brain via activation of efferent synaptic contacts on hair cells. The experimental model was the oyster toadfish, Opsanus tau. Physiological manifestation of mechanical amplification and efferent control in a teleost vestibular organ suggests the active motor process in sensory hair cells is ancestral. The biophysical basis of the motor(s) remains hypothetical, but a key discriminating question may involve how changes in somatic electrical impedance evoked by efferent synaptic action alter function of the motor(s).

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