Inner ear hair cells

The sensations of hearing and balance rely on hair cells, a family of cells located in the inner ear. Crucial to their function are tip links, strings of protein that physically connect the cilia or “hairs” found on these cells.  When the cilia move in response to sensory stimuli — head movement or the vibration of sound, for example—tension is applied to the tip links, which begins a process that ultimately sends nerve impulses to the brain.

Tip links are composed of two different types of proteins called cadherins, which connect in the middle to make one long string. Mutations in these proteins often result in congenital deafness and balance disorders. Scientists have only recently made strides toward understanding the nature of these cadherins, especially at their connection to each other—hypothesized to be the first area to break under stress. (from Harvard.edu)

Image courtesy of Corey lab (link)

Inner ear hair cells, the very cells that convert a mechanical stimulus like sound or head movement into neural signals. Here you can see the mechanosensitive cilia bundles of three cells; the rest of each cell is below the visible surface.

Additional information (michaeldmann.net link)

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