Motile response patterns and ultrastructural observations of the isolated outer hair cell

Burt Niles Evans, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The tonotopic organization of the mammalian cochlea is accompanied by structural gradients which include the somatic lengths of outer hair cells (OHCs). These receptors rest upon the vibrating portion of the basilar membrane and have been reported to exhibit motile responses following chemical and electrical stimulation. These movements were examined in detail in this dissertation. It was found that isolated OHCs cultured in vitro respond to chemical depolarization with slow tonic movements, and to electrical waveforms with bi-directional, frequency following movements extending from DC to at least 10 kHz. Slow contractions were also elicited following electrical stimulation, bath incubation in carbachol (a cholinergic agonist), and increases in extracellular K+ concentration as little as 50 mM. Isolated OHCs display anatomical features which are remarkable when contrasted with those prepared from intact receptor organs. A complex structure located between the cuticular plate and the nuclear membrane was consistently observed and was examined by serial cross-sections which revealed a network of non-membrane bound densities. This corresponded to a granular complex seen at the light microscope level. The complex was composed of dense regions of organelles, striated structures embedded within the core, and a circumferential network of microtubules residing in the peri-nuclear portion of the cell. In cells which had lost their nuclear attachment to the terminal synaptic body, the granular complex could be made to contract without effecting any change in cellular length, implying that the complex may be the driving force behind certain aspects of the motile response. Most cells displayed movements which revealed asymmetries analogous to those reported for OHC receptor potentials in vivo. The contraction phase (for longer cells) was shown to have a small time constant (approximately 400 microseconds) and saturated with limited displacements. The expansion phase had time constants as large as 1.3 milliseconds but yielded displacements as much as 60 percent larger than those seen for contractions. Additional waveform characteristics seen in the in vivo response could be emulated either by biasing the cell's resting length with either direct current, triggering contractions via large electrical displacements, or incubation with depolarizing compounds. Alternatively, short (20-30 um) cells revealed more linear response characteristics to the probe stimulus. Partial saturation was achieved and revealed a DC component which was opposite in polarity to that seen in longer cells. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

Subject Area

Anatomy & physiology|Animals

Recommended Citation

Evans, Burt Niles, "Motile response patterns and ultrastructural observations of the isolated outer hair cell" (1988). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI8826294.