Research ArticleSTRUCTURAL BIOLOGY

Critical role of spectrin in hearing development and deafness

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Science Advances  17 Apr 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 4, eaav7803
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav7803

Abstract

Inner ear hair cells (HCs) detect sound through the deflection of mechanosensory stereocilia. Stereocilia are inserted into the cuticular plate of HCs by parallel actin rootlets, where they convert sound-induced mechanical vibrations into electrical signals. The molecules that support these rootlets and enable them to withstand constant mechanical stresses underpin our ability to hear. However, the structures of these molecules have remained unknown. We hypothesized that αII- and βII-spectrin subunits fulfill this role, and investigated their structural organization in rodent HCs. Using super-resolution fluorescence imaging, we found that spectrin formed ring-like structures around the base of stereocilia rootlets. These spectrin rings were associated with the hearing ability of mice. Further, HC-specific, βII-spectrin knockout mice displayed profound deafness. Overall, our work has identified and characterized structures of spectrin that play a crucial role in mammalian hearing development.

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