The fate of outer hair cells after acoustic or ototoxic insults

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In epithelial sheets, clearance of dead cells may occur by one of several routes, including extrusion into the lumen, phagocytic clearance by invading lymphocytes, or phagocytosis by neighboring cells. The fate of dead cochlear outer hair cells is unclear. We investigated the fate of the “corpses” of dead outer hair cells in guinea pigs and mice following drug or noise exposure. We examined whole mounts and plastic sections of normal and lesioned organ of Corti for the presence of prestin, a protein unique to outer hair cells. Supporting cells, which are devoid of prestin in the normal ear, contained clumps of prestin in areas of hair cell loss. The data show that cochlear supporting cells surround the corpses and/or debris of degenerated outer hair cells, and suggest that outer hair cell remains are phagocytosed by supporting cells within the epithelium.

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