Shape deformation of the organ of Corti associated with length changes of outer hair cell.Acta Otolaryngol 1996; 116(3):395-400AO
Cochlear outer hair cells (OHC) are commonly assumed to function as mechanical effectors as well as sensory receptors in the organ of Corti (OC) of the inner ear. OHC in vitro and in organ explants exhibit mechanical responses to electrical, chemical or mechanical stimulation which may represent an aspect of their effector process that is expected in vivo. A detailed description, however, of an OHC effector operation in situ is still missing. Specifically, little is known as to how OHC movements influence the geometry of the OC in situ. Previous work has demonstrated that the motility of isolated OHCs in response to electrical stimulation and to K(+)-gluconate is probably under voltage control and causes depolarisation (shortening) and hyperpolarization (elongation). This work was undertaken to investigate if the movements that were observed in isolated OHC, and which are induced by ionic stimulation, could change the geometry of the OC. A synchronized depolarization of OHC was induced in guinea pig cochleae by exposing the entire OC to artificial endolymph (K+). Subsequent morphometry of mid-modiolar sections from these cochleae revealed that the distance between the basilar membrane (BM) and the reticular lamina (RL) had decreased considerably. Furthermore, in the three upper turns OHC had significantly shortened in all rows. The results suggest that OHC can change their length in the organ of Corti (OC) thus deforming the geometry of the OC. The experiments reveal a tonic force generation within the OC that may change the position of RL and/or BM, contribute to damping, modulate the BM-RL-distance and control the operating points of RL and sensory hair bundles. Thus, the results suggest active self-adjustments of cochlear mechanics by slow OHC length changes. Such mechanical adjustments have recently been postulated to correspond to timing elements of animal communication, speech or music.