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Hear Res. 1998 Apr;118(1-2):1-12.

Evidence for a medial K+ recycling pathway from inner hair cells.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston 29425, USA.


K+ effluxed from outer hair cells and their nerves is thought to flow laterally to strial marginal cells for recycling into scala media. Observations reported here provide evidence that K+ effluxed from inner hair cells and inner radial nerves travels medially through border cells, inner sulcus cells (ISCs), limbal fibrocytes and interdental cells (IDCs) for return to endolymph. Morphologic features of ISCs in the medial route resembled those of Hensen and Claudius cells in the lateral indicating an ion transport role for ISCs like that of Hensen and Claudius cells. Na,K-ATPase in plasmalemma of IDCs testified to their capacity to resorb and transport K+ through their known gap junctions. IDCs were differentiated into three subgroups. The most lateral IDCs formed short and long columns. Long columns contacted the medialmost ISC inferiorly and the undersurface of the tectorial membrane superiorly providing thereby a potential transcellular route for K+ transit from ISCs to endolymph. Short columns faced inner sulcus below and tectorial membrane above and accordingly possessed cells with opposite polarity at the bottom and top of the column. Short columns thus appeared situated to resorb electrolytes from limbal stroma for release into inner sulcus and beneath tectorial membrane at opposite ends of the column. The central IDCs were positioned for resorbing and transporting K+ effluxing from the Na,K-ATPase-rich stellate fibrocytes which spread toward the IDCs from near the inner sulcus. The most medial IDCs lined cuplike invaginations near the attachment of Reissner's membrane and lay apposed to light fibrocytes located between supralimbal fibrocytes and the medial IDCs. Content of Na,K-ATPase and position in the K+ transport route likened the limbal stellate fibrocytes to the spiral ligament type II fibrocytes and supralimbal fibrocytes to suprastrial fibrocytes in the lateral wall. From content of creatine kinase and position in the transport path, limbal light fibrocytes appeared analogous to spiral ligament type I fibrocytes. The additional finding that limbal fibrocytes showed unchanged or upregulated Na,K-ATPase immunoreactivity in aged gerbils with strial atrophy provided further evidence for an independent medial transport route and for the survival of inner hair cells in presbyacusis.

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