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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2012 Aug;13(4):473-84. doi: 10.1007/s10162-012-0322-7. Epub 2012 Apr 5.

Contractility in type III cochlear fibrocytes is dependent on non-muscle myosin II and intercellular gap junctional coupling.

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Centre for Auditory Research, UCL Ear Institute, University College London, 332 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8EE, UK.


The cochlear spiral ligament is a connective tissue that plays diverse roles in normal hearing. Spiral ligament fibrocytes are classified into functional sub-types that are proposed to carry out specialized roles in fluid homeostasis, the mediation of inflammatory responses to trauma, and the fine tuning of cochlear mechanics. We derived a secondary sub-culture from guinea pig spiral ligament, in which the cells expressed protein markers of type III or "tension" fibrocytes, including non-muscle myosin II (nmII), α-smooth muscle actin (αsma), vimentin, connexin43 (cx43), and aquaporin-1. The cells formed extensive stress fibers containing αsma, which were also associated intimately with nmII expression, and the cells displayed the mechanically contractile phenotype predicted by earlier modeling studies. cx43 immunofluorescence was evident within intercellular plaques, and the cells were coupled via dye-permeable gap junctions. Coupling was blocked by meclofenamic acid (MFA), an inhibitor of cx43-containing channels. The contraction of collagen lattice gels mediated by the cells could be prevented reversibly by blebbistatin, an inhibitor of nmII function. MFA also reduced the gel contraction, suggesting that intercellular coupling modulates contractility. The results demonstrate that these cells can impart nmII-dependent contractile force on a collagenous substrate, and support the hypothesis that type III fibrocytes regulate tension in the spiral ligament-basilar membrane complex, thereby determining auditory sensitivity.

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