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Laryngoscope. 1983 May;93(5):599-614.

Serial section reconstruction of the neural poles of hair cells in the human organ of Corti. I. Inner hair cells.


Study of the anatomy of the cochlea, and in particular the morphology of synaptic relationships between hair cells and cochlear neurons, is essential for elucidation of the mechanisms of transduction of mechanical acoustic signals into electrical neural events. Because considerable gaps remain in our understanding of the microscopic anatomy of these synapses, particularly in the human, a reconstruction of neural pole of inner hair cells of the human organ of Corti was performed. The data are based on 526 serial sections from the basal turn (10 mm region) and 356 serial sections from the middle turn (26 mm region). This provided complete data on 3 and partial data on 5 inner hair cells. Afferent terminals on inner hair cells were variable in size, ranging 1 to 20 micrometers in diameter. Branching of large fibers to produce multiple terminals innervating from 1 to 3 inner hair cells was common. Each inner hair cell received approximately 6 to 8 different nerve terminals. In addition, each terminal possessed a variable number of synaptic contacts. Junctional membrane specialization consisted of synapses, desmosomes, coated vesicles and arrays of microtubules and membrane cisternae. Specialization at synapses consisted of asymmetrical membrane thickening. At inner hair cells the postsynaptic membrane was thicker than the presynaptic membrane. Eighty-three percent of synapses had presynaptic bodies. Vesiculated efferent terminals synapsed on afferent fibers at the base of inner hair cells, but never directly on the inner hair cell. These anatomical data demonstrate distinct differences between the human and animal inner ear, which are important in the interpretation of neurophysiological data in animals and the formulation of hypotheses that involve assumptions crossing species.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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