Structure and function of the hair cell ribbon synapse

J Membr Biol. 2006 Feb-Mar;209(2-3):153-65. doi: 10.1007/s00232-005-0854-4. Epub 2006 May 25.


Faithful information transfer at the hair cell afferent synapse requires synaptic transmission to be both reliable and temporally precise. The release of neurotransmitter must exhibit both rapid on and off kinetics to accurately follow acoustic stimuli with a periodicity of 1 ms or less. To ensure such remarkable temporal fidelity, the cochlear hair cell afferent synapse undoubtedly relies on unique cellular and molecular specializations. While the electron microscopy hallmark of the hair cell afferent synapse--the electron-dense synaptic ribbon or synaptic body--has been recognized for decades, dissection of the synapse's molecular make-up has only just begun. Recent cell physiology studies have added important insights into the synaptic mechanisms underlying fidelity and reliability of sound coding. The presence of the synaptic ribbon links afferent synapses of cochlear and vestibular hair cells to photoreceptors and bipolar neurons of the retina. This review focuses on major advances in understanding the hair cell afferent synapse molecular anatomy and function that have been achieved during the past years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animals
  • Exocytosis / physiology
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / physiology*
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / ultrastructure
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure