Outer Hair Cell Lateral Wall Structure Constrains the Mobility of Plasma Membrane Proteins
Cochlear outer hair cells (OHCs) rapidly change their length and stiffness when their membrane potential is altered. Prestin, the motor protein for this electromotility, is present along the OHC lateral plasma membrane where there is a high density of intra-membrane protein particles (IMPs). However, it is not known to what extent prestin contributes to this unusual dense population of proteins and overall organization of the membrane to generate the unique electromechanical response of OHCs. We investigated the relationship of prestin with the IMPs, the underlying cortical cytoskeletal lattice, and electromotility in prestin-deficient mice. Using freeze-fracture, we observed a reduction in density and size of the IMPs that correlates with the reduction and absence of prestin in the heterozygous and homozygous mice, respectively. We also observed a reduction or absence of electromotility-related charge density, axial stiffness, and piezoelectric properties of the OHC. A comparison of the charge density with the number of IMPs suggests that prestin forms tetramers in the wild type but is likely to form lower number oligomers in the prestin-deficient OHCs from the heterozygous mice. Interestingly, the characteristic actin-based cortical cytoskeletal lattice that underlies the membrane is absent in the prestin-null OHCs, suggesting that prestin is also required for recruiting or maintaining the cortical cytoskeletal lattice. These results suggest that the majority of the IMPs are indeed prestin and that electrically evoked length and stiffness changes are interrelated and dependent on both prestin and on the cortical actin cytoskeletal lattice of the OHC lateral membrane.