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Prestin's role in cochlear frequency tuning and transmission of mechanical responses to neural excitation
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-07, 19:12 authored by Marcia M Mellado Lagarde, Markus Drexl, Andrei N Lukashkin, Jian Zuo, Ian J Russell
The remarkable power amplifier  of the cochlea boosts low-level and compresses high-level vibrations of the basilar membrane (BM) . By contributing maximally at the characteristic frequency (CF) of each point along its length, the amplifier ensures the exquisite sensitivity, narrow frequency tuning, and enormous dynamic range of the mammalian cochlea. The motor protein prestin in the outer hair cell (OHC) lateral membrane is a prime candidate for the cochlear power amplifier . The other contender for this role is the ubiquitous calcium-mediated motility of the hair cell stereocilia, which has been demonstrated in vitro and is based on fast adaptation of the mechanoelectrical transduction channels [4,5]. Absence of prestin  from OHCs results in a 40¿60 dB reduction in cochlear neural sensitivity . Here we show that sound-evoked BM vibrations in the high-frequency region of prestin-/- mice cochleae are, surprisingly, as sensitive as those of their prestin+/+ siblings. The BM vibrations of prestin-/- mice are, however, broadly tuned to a frequency approximately a half octave below the CF of prestin+/+ mice at similar BM locations. The peak sensitivity of prestin+/+ BM tuning curves matches the neural thresholds. In contrast, prestin-/- BM tuning curves at their best frequency are >50 dB more sensitive than the neural responses. We propose that the absence of prestin from OHCs, and consequent reduction in stiffness of the cochlea partition, changes the passive impedance of the BM at high frequencies, including the CF. We conclude that prestin influences the cochlear partition's dynamic properties that permit transmission of its vibrations into neural excitation. Prestin is crucial for defining sharp and sensitive cochlear frequency tuning by reducing the sensitivity of the low-frequency tail of the tuning curve, although this necessitates a cochlear amplifier to determine the narrowly tuned tip.
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