Immunological techniques have been used to generate both polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies specific for the apical ends of sensory hair cells in the avian inner ear. The hair cell antigen recognized by these antibodies is soluble in nonionic detergent, behaves on sucrose gradients primarily as a 16S particle, and, after immunoprecipitation, migrates as a polypeptide with a relative molecular mass of 275 kD on 5% SDS gels under reducing conditions. The antigen can be detected with scanning immunoelectron microscopy on the apical surface of the cell and on the stereocilia bundle but not on the kinocilium. Double label studies indicate that the entire stereocilia bundle is stained in the lagena macula (a vestibular organ), whereas in the basilar papilla (an auditory organ) only the proximal region of the stereocilia bundle nearest to the apical surface is stained. The monoclonal anti-hair cell antibodies do not stain brain, tongue, lung, liver, heart, crop, gizzard, small intestine, skeletal muscle, feather, skin, or eye tissues but do specifically stain renal corpuscles in the kidney. Experiments using organotypic cultures of the embryonic lagena macula indicate that the antibodies cause a significant increase in the steady-state stiffness of the stereocilia bundle but do not inhibit mechanotransduction. The antibodies should provide a suitable marker and/or tool for the purification of the apical sensory membrane of the hair cell.

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