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Int Rev Neurobiol. 2016;128:369-99. doi: 10.1016/bs.irn.2016.03.016. Epub 2016 Apr 20.

BK Channels in the Vertebrate Inner Ear.

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University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Kresge Hearing Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States.


The perception of complex acoustic stimuli begins with the deconstruction of sound into its frequency components. This spectral processing occurs first and foremost in the inner ear. In vertebrates, two very different strategies of frequency analysis have evolved. In nonmammalian vertebrates, the sensory hair cells of the inner ear are intrinsically electrically tuned to a narrow band of acoustic frequencies. This electrical tuning relies on the interplay between BK channels and voltage-gated calcium channels. Systematic variations in BK channel density and kinetics establish a gradient in electrical resonance that enables the coding of a broad range of acoustic frequencies. In contrast, mammalian hair cells are extrinsically tuned by mechanical properties of the cochlear duct. Even so, mammalian hair cells also express BK channels. These BK channels play critical roles in various aspects of mammalian auditory signaling, from developmental maturation to protection against acoustic trauma. This review summarizes the anatomical localization, biophysical properties, and functional contributions of BK channels in vertebrate inner ears. Areas of future research, based on an updated understanding of the biology of both BK channels and the inner ear, are also highlighted. Investigation of BK channels in the inner ear continues to provide fertile research grounds for examining both BK channel biophysics and the molecular mechanisms underlying signal processing in the auditory periphery.


Auditory sensory epithelium; Auditory threshold shifts; BK; BK(Ca); Charybdotoxin; Chicken; Cochlea; Electrical tuning; Frequency tuning; Frog; Guinea pig; Hair cells; Iberiotoxin; K(Ca)1.1; KCNMA1; KCNMB1; KCNMB2; KCNMB3; KCNMB4; LRRC26; LRRC52; LRRC55; LRRC58; MaxiK; Mouse; Noise-induced hearing loss; Olivocochlear efferent innervation; Organ of Corti; Place code; Rat; Ribbon active zone; SK channels; Slo1; Spiral ganglion cells; Synapse; Tetraethylammonium; Tonotopy; Turtle; Voltage-gated calcium channels

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