A targeted deletion in alpha-tectorin reveals that the tectorial membrane is required for the gain and timing of cochlear feedback.
alpha-tectorin is an extracellular matrix molecule of the inner ear. Mice homozygous for a targeted deletion in a-tectorin have tectorial membranes that are detached from the cochlear epithelium and lack all noncollagenous matrix, but the architecture of the organ of Corti is otherwise normal. The basilar membranes of wild-type and alpha-tectorin mutant mice are tuned, but the alpha-tectorin mutants are 35 dB less sensitive. Basilar membrane responses of wild-type mice exhibit a second resonance, indicating that the tectorial membrane provides an inertial mass against which outer hair cells can exert forces. Cochlear microphonics recorded in alpha-tectorin mutants differ in both phase and symmetry relative to those of wild-type mice. Thus, the tectorial membrane ensures that outer hair cells can effectively respond to basilar membrane motion and that feedback is delivered with the appropriate gain and timing required for amplification.