Sensory receptor cells of the mammalian cochlea are morphologically and functionally dichotomized. Inner hair cells transmit auditory information to the brain, whereas outer hair cells (OHC) amplify the mechanical signal, which is then transduced by inner hair cells. Amplification by OHCs is probably mediated by their somatic motility in a mechanical feedback process. OHC motility in vivo is thought to be driven by the cell's receptor potential. The first steps towards the generation of the receptor potential are the deflection of the stereociliary bundle, and the subsequent flow of transducer current through the mechanosensitive transducer channels located at their tips. Quantitative relations between transducer currents and basilar membrane displacements are lacking, as well as their variation along the cochlear length. To address this, we simultaneously recorded OHC transducer currents (or receptor potentials) and basilar membrane motion in an excised and bisected cochlea, the hemicochlea. This preparation permits recordings from adult OHCs at various cochlear locations while the basilar membrane is mechanically stimulated. Furthermore, the stereocilia are deflected by the same means of stimulation as in vivo. Here we show that asymmetrical transducer currents and receptor potentials are significantly larger than previously thought, they possess a highly restricted dynamic range and strongly depend on cochlear location.
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