Potassium-depolarization induces motility in isolated outer hair cells by an osmotic mechanism

Hear Res. 1988 Feb-Mar;32(2-3):123-9. doi: 10.1016/0378-5955(88)90084-6.


Outer hair cells in vitro contract in response to various stimuli: electrical stimulation, K+-depolarization, elevation of intracellular calcium or osmotic changes of the extracellular medium. The characteristics of motile responses induced by K+-depolarization, osmotic changes, and calcium injection were compared in this study in order to delineate the underlying mechanisms. Slow shape changes in outer hair cells were induced by changes of the osmolality or the K+/Na+-ratio of the bathing medium, or by intracellular injections of calcium. K+- and osmotically induced contractions of isolated outer hair cells had identical morphological features and the same rate (50-200 nm/s) and amplitude (up to greater than 10% of original length) of shortening. The shortening of the cells was linearly related to an increase in volume in both cases. In contrast, the active contraction induced by Ca2+/ATP exhibited a somewhat faster rate and no increase in volume. Furthermore, the K+-induced contractions in outer hair cells, unlike those reported in smooth muscle cells, were unaffected by the removal of external Ca2+ (i.e. medium without Ca2+/Mg2+ and supplemented with 1 mM EGTA) or the presence of D600, an inhibitor of the Ca2+ inward current. The results strongly suggest that K+ induces shape changes of outer hair cells via osmotic forces and that intracellular calcium mediates contractions by a different mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Calcium / pharmacology
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / drug effects*
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / physiology
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / ultrastructure
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Movement
  • Osmosis
  • Potassium / pharmacology*


  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Potassium
  • Calcium