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HNO. 2012 Aug;60(8):707-14. doi: 10.1007/s00106-011-2457-y.

[Super-resolution optical microscopy of the organ of Corti. Investigations on the fine structure of the inner hair cell afferent synapse by the 4Pi and STED techniques].

[Article in German]

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Innenohrlabor der HNO-Klinik, Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, 37099, Göttingen, Deutschland.



Inner hair cells encode sound into action potentials in the auditory nerve. Spiral ganglion neurons form the afferent innervation of inner hair cells via the hair cell synapse. The structure and function of this ribbon-type synapse is considered to have a major impact on the sound encoding process itself. In this study we have used conventional confocal microscopy as well as super-resolution techniques to investigate the synaptic organization in the inner hair cells of mice.


Functionally relevant proteins of the afferent inner hair cell synapse were selectively marked using immunohistochemical methods and investigated with conventional confocal and super-resolution 4Pi- and stimulated emission depletion (STED) techniques.


Synapse and innervation density was mapped over the entire tonotopic axis. We found inner hair cells in the region of best hearing to have about twice the number of afferent fibres compared to the apex or base of the cochlea. For the first time 4Pi and STED microscopic techniques were employed to resolve the fine structure of these synapses beyond the resolution of conventional light microscopy. With 4Pi a resolution of approximately 100 nm in the z-axis direction is feasible. In practice STED delivers an effective resolution between 150 and 30 nm, depending on the power of the lasers employed. Synapses at different tonotopic positions of the cochlea exhibit no relevant structural differences at this level of resolution. The 4Pi and STED microscopic techniques are capable of showing the structure of afferent synapses in the organ of Corti with unsurpassed resolution. These images contribute to our understanding of sound-encoding mechanisms in the inner ear.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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