Hair cells of the auditory and vestibular systems transform mechanical input into electrical potentials through the mechanoelectrical transduction process (MET). Deflection of the mechanosensory hair bundle increases tension in the gating springs that open MET channels. Regulation of MET channel sensitivity contributes to the auditory system's precision, wide dynamic range and, potentially, protection from overexcitation. Modulating the stiffness of the gating spring modulates the sensitivity of the MET process. Here, we investigated the role of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) in rat outer hair cell MET and found that cAMP up-regulation lowers the sensitivity of the channel in a manner consistent with decreasing gating spring stiffness. Direct measurements of the mechanical properties of the hair bundle confirmed a decrease in gating spring stiffness with cAMP up-regulation. In parallel, we found that prolonged depolarization mirrored the effects of cAMP. Finally, a limited number of experiments implicate that cAMP activates the exchange protein directly activated by cAMP to mediate the changes in MET sensitivity. These results reveal that cAMP signaling modulates gating spring stiffness to affect auditory sensitivity.
Keywords: EPAC; LDM; cyclic AMP; hair bundle mechanics; stereocilia.