, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 101-118

Gap junctions in the rat cochlea: immunohistochemical and ultrastructural analysis

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Abstract

Gap junctions in the rat cochlea were investigated using immunostaining for connexin26 and transmission electron microscopy. Electron microscopy of normal and pre-embedded immunostained material showed that there were gap junctions between and among all cells that light microscopy showed to have immunostained appositions. Light microscopy showed immunostaining between and among all cell types that electron microscopy showed to be joined by gap junctions. Immunostaining for connexin26 was therefore taken as providing a reasonable approximation of the locations of gap junctions throughout the cochlea and was used to provide an overview of the extent of those locations. Cells interconnected via gap junctions fell into one of two groups. The first group consists of nonsensory epithelial cells and includes interdental cells of the spiral limbus, inner sulcus cells, organ of Corti supporting cells, outer sulcus cells, and cells within the root processes of the spiral ligament. The second group consists of connective tissue cells and includes various fibrocyte types of the spiral limbus and spiral ligament, basal and intermediate cells of the stria vascularis, and mesenchymal cells which line the scala vestibuli. The present work represents a first attempt towards a description of how serial gap junctions among cochlear cells reflect a level of organization of the tissue. The organization described here, together with a great deal of information from previous investigators, suggest that serially arranged gap junctions of both epithelial and connective tissue cells serve as the strucural basis for recycling endolymphatic potassium ions that pass through the sensory cells during the transduction process.