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Sounds in the world around us are converted into neuro-electrical signals in the inner ear, or cochlea. Mechanosensory ‘hair cells’ generate tiny voltage changes depending on the intensity and frequency composition of a sound wave.
That initial voltage signal is communicated to a second order neuron through the release of chemical neurotransmitters at specialized structures called dense bodies or ribbons (by analogy to similar connections in the retina). The mechanisms of neurotransmitter release and the ion channels that support it are studied by our laboratories.
Glowatzki E and PA Fuchs (2002) Transmitter release at the hair cell ribbon synapse. Nature Neuroscience 5(2):147-154.
Grant, L and PA Fuchs (2008). Calcium, calmodulin-dependent inactivation of calcium channels in inner hair cells of the rat cochlea. Journal of Neurophysiology 99(5):2183-93.
Goutman J and E Glowatzki (2007) Time course and calcium dependence of transmitter release at a single ribbon synapse. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 104(41):16341-6.
Weisz C., E. Glowatzki and P.A. Fuchs (2009). The postsynaptic function of Type II cochlear afferents. Nature (in press).