In general, SLC26 solute carriers serve to transport a variety of anions across biological membranes. However, prestin (SLC26a5) has evolved, now serving as a motor protein in outer hair cells (OHCs) of the mammalian inner ear and is required for cochlear amplification, a mechanical feedback mechanism to boost auditory performance. The mechanical activity of the OHC imparted by prestin is driven by voltage and controlled by anions, chiefly intracellular chloride. Current opinion is that chloride anions control the Boltzmann characteristics of the voltage sensor responsible for prestin activity, including Qmax, the total sensor charge moved within the membrane, and Vh, a measure of prestin's operating voltage range. Here, we show that standard narrow-band, high-frequency admittance measures of nonlinear capacitance (NLC), an alternate representation of the sensor's charge-voltage (Q-V) relationship, is inadequate for assessment of Qmax, an estimate of the sum of unitary charges contributed by all voltage sensors within the membrane. Prestin's slow transition rates and chloride-binding kinetics adversely influence these estimates, contributing to the prevalent concept that intracellular chloride level controls the quantity of sensor charge moved. By monitoring charge movement across frequency, using measures of multifrequency admittance, expanded displacement current integration, and OHC electromotility, we find that chloride influences prestin kinetics, thereby controlling charge magnitude at any particular frequency of interrogation. Importantly, however, this chloride dependence vanishes as frequency decreases, with Qmax asymptoting at a level irrespective of the chloride level. These data indicate that prestin activity is significantly low-pass in the frequency domain, with important implications for cochlear amplification. We also note that the occurrence of voltage-dependent charge movements in other SLC26 family members may be hidden by inadequate interrogation timescales, and that revelation of such activity could highlight an evolutionary means for kinetic modifications within the family to address hearing requirements in mammals.
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