Cochlear frequency selectivity in lower vertebrates arises in part from electrical tuning intrinsic to the sensory hair cells. The resonant frequency is determined largely by the gating kinetics of calcium-activated potassium (BK) channels encoded by the slo gene. Alternative splicing of slo from chick cochlea generated kinetically distinct BK channels. Combination with accessory β subunits slowed the gating kinetics of α spice variants but preserved relative differences between them. In situ hybridization showed that the β subunit is preferentially expressed by low-frequency (apical) hair cells in the avian cochlea. Interaction of β with α splice variants could provide the kinetic range needed for electrical tuning of cochlear hair cells.
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