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J Neurophysiol. 2012 May;107(9):2408-20. doi: 10.1152/jn.01178.2011. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

Permeation properties of the hair cell mechanotransducer channel provide insight into its molecular structure.

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Department of Otolaryngology, Stanford University, 300 Pasteur Dr., Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Mechanoelectric transducer (MET) channels, located near stereocilia tips, are opened by deflecting the hair bundle of sensory hair cells. Defects in this process result in deafness. Despite this critical function, the molecular identity of MET channels remains a mystery. Inherent channel properties, particularly those associated with permeation, provide the backbone for the molecular identification of ion channels. Here, a novel channel rectification mechanism is identified, resulting in a reduced pore size at positive potentials. The apparent difference in pore dimensions results from Ca(2+) binding within the pore, occluding permeation. Driving force for permeation at hyperpolarized potentials is increased because Ca(2+) can more easily be removed from binding within the pore due to the presence of an electronegative external vestibule that dehydrates and concentrates permeating ions. Alterations in Ca(2+) binding may underlie tonotopic and Ca(2+)-dependent variations in channel conductance. This Ca(2+)-dependent rectification provides targets for identifying the molecular components of the MET channel.

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