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Biophys J. 1994 Jun;66(6):1939-42.

Potassium secretion by vestibular dark cell epithelium demonstrated by vibrating probe.

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Biophysics Laboratory, Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, NE 68131.


Detection of motion and position by the vestibular labyrinth depends on the accumulation of potassium within a central compartment of the inner ear as a source of energy to drive the transduction process. Much circumstantial evidence points to the vestibular dark cell (VDC) epithelium as being responsible for concentrating K+ within the lumen. We have used the vibrating probe technique to directly observe voltage and ion gradients produced by this tissue to put this assumption on a solid experimental footing. Relative current density (Isc,probe) over the apical membrane of VDC epithelium was measured with the vibrating voltage-sensitive probe, and this technique was validated by performing maneuvers known to either stimulate or inhibit the transepithelial equivalent short circuit current. Basolateral bumetanide (5 x 10(-5) M) and ouabain (1 x 10(-3) M) caused a decrease in Isc,probe by 55 +/- 6% and 39 +/- 3%, respectively while raising the basolateral K+ concentration from 4 to 25 mM caused an increase by 35 +/- 8%. A K+ gradient directed toward the apical membrane was detected with the vibrating K(+)-selective electrode, demonstrating that, indeed, the VDC epithelium secretes K+ under control conditions. This secretion was inhibited by bumetanide (by 94 +/- 7%) and ouabain (by 52 +/- 8%). The results substantiate the supposition that dark cells produce a K+ flux and qualitatively support the correlation between this flux and the transepithelial current.

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