Selective Expression of β Tubulin Isotypes in Gerbil Vestibular Sensory Epithelia and Neurons

Abstract

The seven mammalian isotypes of β tubulin are strikingly similar in amino acid sequence. The differences in isotypic sequence, although small, are nonetheless conserved in evolution, which suggests that they may confer distinct functional roles. If so, such roles should be reflected in the selective expression of isotypes by cell type, or even in the sorting of isotypes to within-cell pools. Hair cells of the vestibular sensory epithelia each possess a kinocilium, a microtubule-based organelle that could represent a distinct microtubule compartment, separate from the extensive microtubule network in the soma. The afferent neurons that innervate the vestibular sensory epithelia may also be functionally divided into dendritic, somatic, and axonal compartments, each with its own complement of microtubules. We have examined the distribution of β tubulin isotypes in gerbil vestibular epithelia using isotype-specific antibodies to four isotypes and indirect immunofluorescence. We found that hair cells selectively express βI and βIV tubulin, while supporting cells express βI, βII, and βIV tubulin. However, no sorting of isotypes between somatic and kinocilia compartments was found in hair cells. Vestibular ganglion cells display three isotypes in the soma, axon, and terminal dendrite compartments (βI, βII, and βIII tubulin), but only βIII tubulin was found in calyceal nerve endings. The implication of these findings is that β tubulin isotypes are not sorted to within-cell compartments in hair cells but are sorted in some vestibular neurons.