Rapid mechanical changes have been associated with electrical activity in a variety of non-muscle excitable cells1–5. Recently, mechanical changes have been reported in cochlear hair cells6–8. Here we describe electrically evoked mechanical changes in isolated cochlear outer hair cells (OHCs) with characteristics which suggest that direct electrokinetic phenomena are implicated in the response. OHCs make up one of two mechanosensitive hair cell populations in the mammalian cochlea; their role may be to modulate the micromechanical properties of the hearing organ through mechanical feedback mechanisms6–10. In the experiments described here, we applied sinusoidally modulated electrical potentials across isolated OHCs; this produced oscillatory elongation and shortening of the cells and oscillatory displacements of intracellular organdies. The movements were a function of the direction and strength of the electrical field, were inversely related to the ionic concentration of the medium, and occurred in the presence of metabolic uncouplers. The cylindrical shape of the OHCs and the presence of a system of membranes within the cytoplasm—laminated cisternae11—may provide the anatomical substrate for electrokinetic phenomena such as electro-osmosis12,13.
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Kachar, B., Brownell, W., Altschuler, R. et al. Electrokinetic shape changes of cochlear outer hair cells. Nature 322, 365–368 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1038/322365a0
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