It is generally believed that mechanical amplification by cochlear hair cells is necessary to enhance the sensitivity and frequency selectivity of hearing. In the mammalian ear, the basis of cochlear amplification is believed to be the voltage-dependent electromotility of outer hair cells (OHCs). The avian basilar papilla contains tall and short hair cells, with the former being comparable to inner hair cells, and the latter comparable to OHCs, based on their innervation patterns. In this study, we sought evidence for somatic electromotility by direct measurements of voltage-dependent length changes in both tall and short hair cells at nanometre resolution. Microchamber and whole-cell voltage-clamp techniques were used. Motility was measured with a photodiode-based measurement system. Non-linear capacitance, an electrical signature of somatic motility, was also measured to complement motility measurement. Significantly, chick hair cells did not exhibit somatic motility nor express non-linear capacitance. The lack of somatic motility suggests that in avian hair cells the active process resides elsewhere, most likely in the hair cell stereocilia.
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