The cochlea is composed of a variety of cell types including sensory, supporting and neural elements. Taken together, these cells comprise a functionally intricate and cohesive electrical unit that initiates the analysis of acoustic information within our environment. We capitalize on the in vitro approach, including isolated cochlea explants, single cell, and more recently stable cell lines to elucidate cochlear cell function; the strategy is to characterize basic properties prior to integration into a cohesive understanding of the organ. Currently, the overarching aim of this project is focused on determining the biophysical properties of key membrane components of the outer hair cell (OHC), one of the major players in auditory function, using a balance of electrophysiology, molecular biology, modelling and high resolution cryo-EM. Though we have made significant progress on many fronts since our last renewal in 2010, we now focus on three specific research topics that evolve from our most significant accomplishments. In particular, one of the main areas of our investigations has been and will be the influence of anions on the OHC molecular motor?s (prestin, SLC26a5) electro-mechanical activity. This ion is at the root of cochlear amplification (Santos-Sacchi et al., 2006). Indeed, the NIDCD?s 2012-2016 Strategic Plan specifically identifies understanding anion control of hearing as a key goal. The three aims are 1) to evaluate the chloride-dependent kinetic behavior of OHC nonlinear capacitance and electromotility, 2) to characterize intracellular chloride movements in the prestin-transfected HEK cell and OHC with a new prestin-fused YFP chloride sensor we created, and 3) to determine the high resolution structure of prestin (SLC26a5) and its closest mammalian family member SLC26a6 using cryo-EM, with the goal of identifying conformational changes due to chloride and voltage. We hypothesize that understanding these molecular activities will aid in understanding how the OHC enables us to hear so well and in turn how micro-environmental influences may lead to pathologies of the OHC that afflict millions.
With the identification of prestin as the lateral membrane motor protein of the outer hair cell (OHC), we are faced with the possibility of understanding how this single molecule can effect the mammal?s exquisite sense of hearing. To that end, we have focused our interest on determining dynamic properties of the motor in its ionic environment; namely, how anion modulation of the motor may give rise to the motor?s known biophysical attributes, and how chloride redistributes in OHCs. We also propose to structurally identify underlying conformational events in prestin using cryo-electron microscopy. We hypothesize that understanding these molecular activities will aid in understanding how the OHC enables us to hear so well and in turn how micro-environmental influences may lead to pathologies of the OHC that afflict millions.
|Santos-Sacchi, Joseph; Tan, Winston (2018) The Frequency Response of Outer Hair Cell Voltage-Dependent Motility Is Limited by Kinetics of Prestin. J Neurosci 38:5495-5506|