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J Comp Neurol. 1995 May 8;355(3):405-17.

Two modes of hair cell loss from the vestibular sensory epithelia of the guinea pig inner ear.

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Institute of Laryngology and Otology, University College London Medical School, United Kingdom.


In the vestibular and auditory neurosensory epithelia of poikilothermic vertebrates and of birds, damaged sensory "hair" cells are often deleted by extrusion from the apical surface. In contrast, in the adult mammalian auditory epithelium (the organ of Corti), the bodies of damaged hair cells degenerate within the epithelium. To determine whether this apparent difference is species related or is associated with the differing structural organisation of the epithelia, hair cell deletion in the mammalian vestibular end-organs was examined. The structural organisation of these tissues is closer to that of the inner ear epithelia of lower vertebrates than to the organ of Corti. Hair cell loss was induced by chronic, systemic treatment of guinea pigs with the ototoxic aminoglycoside antibiotic gentamicin. The vestibular sensory epithelia were examined at various times after treatment via scanning electron microscopy, thin sectioning, and staining f-actin with fluorescently labelled phalloidin. Two distinct modes of hair cell loss were identified: 1) degeneration of hair cells within the epithelium, which often showed morphological features consistent with those described for apoptosis, and 2) extrusion of intact cells from the apical surface. Neither process caused the formation of obvious lesions through the epithelial surfaces. Expansion of adjacent supporting cells during hair cell deletion resulted in repair that appeared to preserve permeability barriers. There was also no evidence of inflammation accompanying hair cell removal. Thus, with both modes of hair cell loss, it appeared that deletion of hair cells was achieved without disruption of tissue architecture or integrity. This may be important for subsequent repair and regeneration processes to operate.

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