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Hear Res. 1986;22:117-46.

Functional structure of the organ of Corti: a review.


The mammalian auditory organs have a dual sensory system (inner vs. outer hair cells) with distinctly different cellular organizations and innervation patterns. However, the inner (IHCs) and outer (OHCs) hair cells are mechanoreceptors sharing similar general characteristics such as organization of stereocilia (including linkage system) and a gradation of stereociliary height along the length of the cochlea. This gradation of stereociliary height may be the single most important anatomic feature in the tuning capability of the sensory cell. Several lines of evidence suggest that the stereociliary stiffness may be modulated by the sensory cells themselves, most likely via the cuticular plate-rootlet complex. The stereociliary bundles of both types of hair cell are organized in a 'W' formation with a steplike arrangement. In the OHCs, the 'W' formation is sharply angulated and slanted toward the apex, coinciding with the slanted fiber arrangement of the overlying tectorial membrane, which is firmly coupled to the tips of the tallest row of the stereociliary bundles. However, in the IHCs, the 'W' formation is wide and its long axis is linear and arranged at a right angle to the radial axis of the organ of Corti; also, the ciliary bundles are freestanding (with a few exceptions in the basal turn). This arrangement in the IHCs would be best suited for deflection by the radial flow of the endolymph. Present evidence suggests that the subtectorial fluid space exists, is filled with endolymph, and freely communicates with endolymph. Because of the discovery of the phenomenon of 'cochlear emission', the possible motility of the sensory cells, particularly of the OHCs, has drawn intense interest in recent years. Recent investigations with dissociated sensory cells (OHCs) indicate some motile capability under various experimental conditions, although it has not been established that this motility is present in vivo. For this reason, the specialized cellular organization for motility and localization of contractile and cytoskeletal proteins have been investigated. These results support the possibility that the OHCs may have cellular facilities for this function.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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