A massive loss of inner hair cells typifies the cochleae of Bronx waltzer mutant mice. We have characterized the surviving inner hair cells and their modified innervation by immunocytochemistry using antibodies against neuron-specific enolase, with additional stains for neural cell adhesion molecule and neurofilaments, and by electron microscopy. The surviving inner hair cells vary in size, neuron-specific enolase content and innervation. All neuron-specific enolase-positive cells are innervated by neuron-specific enolase-positive endings. There is apparent correspondence between the neuron-specific enolase immunoreactivity of sensory cells and their innervation. Well-stained cells are richly innervated (and large) while lightly stained cells receive fewer nerve endings. Neuron-specific enolase-negative inner hair cells innervated either by neuron-specific enolase-positive or -negative nerve endings are very rare. Ultrastructurally, the surviving inner hair cells vary from those of a normal morphological appearance to underdeveloped or vacuolated. Most of the apparently normal inner hair cells are associated with few nerve endings; instead nerve growth cones are abundant in the adjacent inner spiral sulcus epithelium. Cells forming ribbon synapses with afferent endings are rare. The contingent of efferent endings in the inner spiral bundle depends on the presence of afferent endings. The absence of inner hair cells and the uneven distribution of nerve endings on the surviving cells results in the disruption of normal innervation patterns, especially in the thinning out or discontinuation of the inner spiral bundle and an uneven distribution of tunnel fibres. We infer that the sprouting of nerve endings and their convergence on a selected population of the surviving inner hair cells represents a compensatory regenerative phenomenon in response to the loss and the genetic defect of the remaining inner hair cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology