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The left figure shows an inner hair cell, with its hair bundle at one end and with 3 of its roughly 20 synapses with cochlear nerve terminals at the other end. The cell's nucleus is shown in red, and each synapse is marked by a smaller red dot. Immunostain recognizes a molecule present in the nucleus and also in a key synaptic component within the hair cell, called a “ribbon.” The images shown on the right were taken with a confocal microscope. The upper image shows 8 inner hair cells from a normal ear (each cell has one large red nucleus) and about 150 small red dots (arrowheads), each of which shows a synapse between a hair cell and a cochlear nerve fiber. The bottom image shows another ear a few days after exposure to a noise that caused only a transient threshold elevation. The confocal image shows no loss of hair cells, but a striking loss of synapses, which will never recover.
Credit: Image courtesy of MicroTransponder, Inc.
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