Stereocilia bundle imaging with nanoscale resolution in live mammalian auditory hair cells

Carolina Galeano-Naranjo, A. Catalina Veléz-Ortega, Gregory I. Frolenkov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Inner ear hair cells detect sound-induced displacements and transduce these stimuli into electrical signals in a hair bundle that consists of stereocilia that are arranged in rows of increasing height. When stereocilia are deflected, they tug on tiny (~5 nm in diameter) extracellular tip links interconnecting stereocilia, which convey forces to the mechanosensitive transduction channels. Although mechanotransduction has been studied in live hair cells for decades, the functionally important ultrastructural details of the mechanotransduction machinery at the tips of stereocilia (such as tip link dynamics or transduction-dependent stereocilia remodeling) can still be studied only in dead cells with electron microscopy. Theoretically, scanning probe techniques, such as atomic force microscopy, have enough resolution to visualize the surface of stereocilia. However, independent of imaging mode, even the slightest contact of the atomic force microscopy probe with the stereocilia bundle usually damages the bundle. Here we present a detailed protocol for the hopping probe ion conductance microscopy (HPICM) imaging of live rodent auditory hair cells. This non-contact scanning probe technique allows time lapse imaging of the surface of live cells with a complex topography, like hair cells, with single nanometers resolution and without making physical contact with the sample. The HPICM uses an electrical current passing through the glass nanopipette to detect the cell surface in close vicinity to the pipette, while a 3D-positioning piezoelectric system scans the surface and generates its image. With HPICM, we were able to image stereocilia bundles and the links interconnecting stereocilia in live auditory hair cells for several hours without noticeable damage. We anticipate that the use of HPICM will allow direct exploration of ultrastructural changes in the stereocilia of live hair cells for better understanding of their function.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere62104
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number167
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 JoVE Journal of Visualized Experiments.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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