Tip links are extracellular filaments that connect pairs of hair cell stereocilia and convey tension to mechanosensitive channels. Recent evidence suggests that tip links are formed by calcium-dependent interactions between the N-terminal domains of cadherin-23 (CDH23) and protocadherin-15 (PCDH15). Mutations in either CDH23 or PCDH15 cause deafness in mice and humans, indicating the molecules are required for normal inner ear function. However, there is little physiological evidence to support a direct role for CDH23 and PCDH15 in hair cell mechanotransduction. To investigate the contributions of CDH23 and PCDH15 to mechanotransduction and tip-link formation, we examined outer hair cells of mouse cochleas during development and after chemical disruption of tip links. We found that tip links and mechanotransduction with all the qualitative properties of mature transduction recovered within 24 h after disruption. To probe tip-link formation, we measured transduction currents after extracellular application of recombinant CDH23 and PCDH15 fragments, which included putative interaction domains (EC1). Both fragments inhibited development and regeneration of transduction but did not disrupt transduction in mature cells. PCDH15 fragments that carried a mutation in EC1 that causes deafness in humans did not inhibit transduction development or regeneration. Immunolocalization revealed wild-type fragments bound near the tips of hair cell stereocilia. Scanning electron micrographs revealed that hair bundles exposed to fragments had a reduced number of linkages aligned along the morphological axis of sensitivity of the bundle. Together, the data provide direct evidence implicating CDH23 and PCDH15 proteins in the formation of tip links during development and regeneration of mechanotransduction.
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