Cochlear outer hair cells (OHC) express the motor protein, prestin, which is required for sensitivity and frequency selectivity. Because our previous work showed that a calmodulin binding site (CBS) was located in prestin’s C-terminal, specifically within the intrinsically disordered region, we sought to delete the IDR to study the functional significance of calcium-dependent, calmodulin binding on OHC function. Although the construct lacking the IDR (∆IDR prestin) demonstrated wildtype-like nonlinear capacitance (NLC) in HEK293T cells, the phenotype in ∆IDR prestin knockins (KI) was similar to that in prestin knockouts: thresholds were elevated, NLC was absent and OHCs were missing from basal regions of the cochlea. Although ∆IDR prestin mRNA was measured, no prestin protein was detected. At the mRNA level, both of prestin’s exons 17 and 18 were entirely removed, rather than the smaller region encoding the IDR. Our hybrid exon that contained the targeted deletion (17–18 ∆IDR) failed to splice in vitro and prestin protein lacking exons 17 and 18 aggregated and failed to target the cell membrane. Hence, the absence of prestin protein in ∆IDR KI OHCs may be due to the unexpected splicing of the hybrid 17–18 ∆IDR exon followed by rapid degradation of nonfunctional prestin protein.
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