Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 326, Issue 2, pp 347–359 | Cite as

Hair cell ribbon synapses



Hearing and balance rely on the faithful synaptic coding of mechanical input by the auditory and vestibular hair cells of the inner ear. Mechanical deflection of their stereocilia causes the opening of mechanosensitive channels, resulting in hair cell depolarization, which controls the release of glutamate at ribbon-type synapses. Hair cells have a compact shape with strong polarity. Mechanoelectrical transduction and active membrane turnover associated with stereociliar renewal dominate the apical compartment. Transmitter release occurs at several active zones along the basolateral membrane. The astonishing capability of the hair cell ribbon synapse for temporally precise and reliable sensory coding has been the subject of intense investigation over the past few years. This research has been facilitated by the excellent experimental accessibility of the hair cell. For the same reason, the hair cell serves as an important model for studying presynaptic Ca2+ signaling and stimulus-secretion coupling. In addition to common principles, hair cell synapses differ in their anatomical and functional properties among species, among the auditory and vestibular organs, and among hair cell positions within the organ. Here, we briefly review synaptic morphology and connectivity and then focus on stimulus-secretion coupling at hair cell synapses.


Hair cell Ribbon synapse Cochlear Vestibular Inner ear 



We thank Regis Nouvian, Alexander Meyer and Beat Schwaller for comments on the manuscript, William Roberts for providing figures of his microdomain modeling, Ruth Anne Eatock for discussion on Ca2+ channels in mammalian vestibular hair cells, and Gerhard Hoch and Steven D. Price for excellent technical assistance.


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© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Otolaryngology and Center for Molecular Physiology of the BrainUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Anatomy & Cell BiologyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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