A comparison of hair cells from different parts of the cochlea reveals the same organization of actin filaments; the elements that vary are the length and number of the filaments. Thin sections of stereocilia reveal that the actin filaments are hexagonally packed and from diffraction patterns of these sections we found that the actin filaments are aligned such that the crossover points of adjacent actin filaments are in register. As a result, the cross-bridges that connect adjacent actin filaments are easily seen in longitudinal sections. The cross-bridges appear as regularly spaced bands that are perpendicular to the axis of the stereocilium. Particularly interesting is that, unlike what one might predict, when a stereocilium is bent or displaced, as might occur during stimulation by sound, the actin filaments are not compressed or stretched but slide past one another so that the bridges become tilted relative to the long axis of the actin filament bundle. In the images of bent bundles, the bands of cross-bridges are then tilted off perpendicular to the stereocilium axis. When the stereocilium is bent at its base, all cross-bridges in the stereocilium are affected. Thus, resistance to bending or displacement must be property of the number of bridges present, which in turn is a function of the number of actin filaments present and their respective lengths. Since hair cells in different parts of the cochlea have stereocilia of different, yet predictable lengths and widths, this means that the force needed to displace the stereocilia of hair cells located at different regions of the cochlea will not be the same. This suggests that fine tuning of the hair cells must be a built-in property of the stereocilia. Perhaps its physiological vulnerability may result from changes of stereociliary structure.

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