Actin-bundling protein TRIOBP forms resilient rootlets of hair cell stereocilia essential for hearing.
Inner ear hair cells detect sound through deflection of mechanosensory stereocilia. Each stereocilium is supported by a paracrystalline array of parallel actin filaments that are packed more densely at the base, forming a rootlet extending into the cell body. The function of rootlets and the molecules responsible for their formation are unknown. We found that TRIOBP, a cytoskeleton-associated protein mutated in human hereditary deafness DFNB28, is localized to rootlets. In vitro, purified TRIOBP isoform 4 protein organizes actin filaments into uniquely dense bundles reminiscent of rootlets but distinct from bundles formed by espin, an actin crosslinker in stereocilia. We generated mutant Triobp mice (Triobp(Deltaex8/Deltaex8)) that are profoundly deaf. Stereocilia of Triobp(Deltaex8/Deltaex8) mice develop normally but fail to form rootlets and are easier to deflect and damage. Thus, F-actin bundling by TRIOBP provides durability and rigidity for normal mechanosensitivity of stereocilia and may contribute to resilient cytoskeletal structures elsewhere.