The hair bundles of outer hair cells in the mature mouse cochlea possess three distinct cell-surface specializations: tip links, horizontal top connectors, and tectorial membrane attachment crowns. Electron microscopy was used to study the appearance and maturation of these link types and examine additional structures transiently associated with the developing hair bundle. At embryonic day 17.5 (E17.5), the stereocilia are interconnected by fine lateral links and have punctate elements distributed over their surface. Oblique tip links are also seen at this stage. By postnatal day 2 (P2), outer hair cell bundles have a dense cell coat, but have lost many of the lateral links seen at E17.5. At P2, ankle links appear around the base of the bundle and tectorial membrane attachment crowns are seen at the stereociliary tips. Ankle links become less apparent by P9 and are completely lost by P12. The appearance of horizontal top connectors, which persist into adulthood, occurs concomitant with this loss of ankle links. Treatment with the calcium chelator BAPTA or the protease subtilisin enabled these links to be further distinguished. Ankle links are susceptible to both treatments, tip links are only sensitive to BAPTA, and tectorial membrane attachment crowns are removed by subtilisin but not BAPTA. The cell-coat material is partially sensitive to subtilisin alone, while horizontal top connectors resist both treatments. These results indicate there is a rich, rapidly changing array of different links covering the developing hair bundle that becomes progressively refined to generate the mature complement by P19.
Copyright (c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.