Connexin 26 (Cx26) and connexin 30 (Cx30) form hemichannels that release ATP from the endolymphatic surface of cochlear supporting and epithelial cells and also form gap junction (GJ) channels that allow the concomitant intercellular diffusion of Ca(2+) mobilizing second messengers. Released ATP in turn activates G-protein coupled P2Y(2) and P2Y(4) receptors, PLC-dependent generation of IP(3), release of Ca(2+) from intracellular stores, instigating the regenerative propagation of intercellular Ca(2+) signals (ICS). The range of ICS propagation is sensitive to the concentration of extracellular divalent cations and activity of ectonucleotidases. Here, the expression patterns of Cx26 and Cx30 were characterized in postnatal cochlear tissues obtained from mice aged between P5 and P6. The expression gradient along the longitudinal axis of the cochlea, decreasing from the basal to the apical cochlear turn (CT), was more pronounced in outer sulcus (OS) cells than in inner sulcus (IS) cells. GJ-mediated dye coupling was maximal in OS cells of the basal CT, inhibited by the nonselective connexin channel blocker carbenoxolone (CBX) and absent in hair cells. Photostimulating OS cells with caged inositol (3,4,5) tri-phosphate (IP(3)) resulted in transfer of ICS in the lateral direction, from OS cells to IS cells across the hair cell region (HCR) of medial and basal CTs. ICS transfer in the opposite (medial) direction, from IS cells photostimulated with caged IP(3) to OS cells, occurred mostly in the basal CT. In addition, OS cells displayed impressive rhythmic activity with oscillations of cytosolic free Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+)](i)) coordinated by the propagation of Ca(2+) wavefronts sweeping repeatedly through the same tissue area along the coiling axis of the cochlea. Oscillations evoked by uncaging IP(3) or by applying ATP differed greatly, by as much as one order of magnitude, in frequency and waveform rise time. ICS evoked by direct application of ATP propagated along convoluted cellular paths in the OS, which often branched and changed dynamically over time. Potential implications of these findings are discussed in the context of developmental regulation and cochlear pathophysiology.
Electronic supplementary material: The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11302-010-9192-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Keywords: CELAbs; Cochlea; DFNB1; Development; Hearing; Mouse models; Organotypic cultures.