Fast recovery of disrupted tip links induced by mechanical displacement of hair bundles
Each of the sensory receptors responsible for hearing or balance—a hair cell—has a mechanosensitive hair bundle. Mechanical stimuli pull upon molecular filaments—the tip links—that open ionic channels in the hair bundle. Loud sounds can damage hearing by breaking the tip links; recovery by replacement of the constituent proteins then requires several hours. We disrupted the tip links in vitro by removing the calcium ions that stabilize them, and then monitored the electrical response or stiffness of hair bundles to determine whether the links could recover. We found that tip links recovered within seconds if their ends were brought back into contact. This form of repair might occur in normal ears to restore sensitivity after damage.