Cadherin 23 and protocadherin 15 are components of tip links, fine filaments that interlink the stereocilia of hair cells and are believed to gate the hair cell's mechanotransducer channels. Tip links are aligned along the hair bundle's axis of mechanosensitivity, stretching obliquely from the top of one stereocilium to the side of an adjacent, taller stereocilium. In guinea pig auditory hair cells, tip links are polarized with cadherin 23 at the upper end and protocadherin 15 at the lower end, where the transducer channel is located. Double immunogold labeling of avian hair cells was used to study the distribution of these two proteins in kinocilial links, a link type that attaches the tallest stereocilia of the hair bundle to the kinocilium. In the kinocilial links of vestibular hair bundles, cadherin 23 localizes to the stereocilium and protocadherin 15 to the kinocilium. The two cadherins are therefore asymmetrically distributed within the kinocilial links but of a polarity that is, within those links that are aligned along the hair bundle's axis of sensitivity, reversed relative to that of tip links. Conventional transmission electron microscopy of hair bundles fixed in the presence of tannic acid reveals a distinct density in the 120-130 nm long kinocilial links that is located 35-40 nm from the kinociliary membrane. The location of this density is consistent with it being the site at which interactions occur in an in trans configuration between the opposing N-termini of homodimeric forms of cadherin 23 and protocadherin 15.
© 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.