The stereocilia on each hair cell are arranged into rows of ascending height, resulting in what we refer to as a "staircase-like" profile. At the proximal end of the cochlea the length of the tallest row of stereocilia in the staircase is 1.5 micron, with the shortest row only 0.3 micron. As one proceeds towards the distal end of the cochlea the length of the stereocilia progressively increases so that at the extreme distal end the length of the tallest row of the staircase is 5.5 micron and the shortest row is 2 micron. During development hair cells form their staircases in four phases of growth separated from each other by developmental time. First, stereocilia sprout from the apical surfaces of the hair cells (8-10-d embryos). Second (10-12-d embryos), what will be the longest row of the staircase begins to elongate. As the embryo gets older successive rows of stereocilia initiate elongation. Thus the staircase is set up by the sequential initiation of elongation of stereociliary rows located at increased distances from the row that began elongation. Third (12-17-d embryos), all the stereocilia in the newly formed staircase elongate until those located on the first step of the staircase have reached the prescribed length. In the final phase (17-d embryos to hatchlings) there is a progressive cessation of elongation beginning with the shortest step and followed by taller and taller rows with the tallest step stopping last. Thus, to obtain a pattern of stereocilia in rows of increasing height what transpires are progressive go signals followed by a period when all the stereocilia grow and ending with progressive stop signals. We discuss how such a sequence could be controlled.

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