Ultrastructural analysis of odontocete cochlea
ColaboratorLenoir, Marc; André Sánchez, Michel; Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. Departament d'Enginyeria Hidràulica, Marítima i Ambiental
Document typeDoctoral thesis
PublisherUniversitat Politècnica de Catalunya
Rights accessOpen Access
The morphological study of the Odontocete organ of Corti including possible pathological features resulting from sound over-exposure, represent a key conservation issue to assess the effects of acoustic pollution on marine ecosystems. Through the collaboration with stranding networks belonging to 26 countries, 150 ears from 13 species of Odontocetes were processed. In this dissertation, we present a standard protocol to 1) compare the ultrastructure of the cochlea in several Odontocete species and 2) investigate possible damage as a consequence of sound exposure, using scanning (SEM) and transmission (TEM) electron microscopy, and immunohistochemistry. In a preliminary study, computerized tomography scans were performed before decalcification with ears of 15 odontocete species, proposing a set of standard measurements which classified very well the species. In addition, the constant ratio between measurements of inner and middle ear structures contributed to confirm the active role of the odontocete middle ear in sound reception mechanism. We established a decalcification protocol using the fast commercial decalcifier RDO® and EDTA (Ethylendiaminetetraacetic acid). Although further experiments should be conducted to assess the suitability of using one or the other method (because the number of samples treated with EDTA was comparatively small), RDO® at specific dilutions decreased the decalcification time of cetacean ear bones with control of the decalcification endpoint, helping a faster access to inner structures. The complementary use of electron microscopy and immunofluorescence allowed the description in odontocetes of new morphological features of tectorial membrane, spiral limbus, spiral ligament, stria vascularis, hair cells and their innervation. Furthermore, this study revealed qualitative and quantitative morphological characteristics of the organ of Corti in high-frequency hearing species, including 1) an outer hair cell (OHC) small length, 2) a thick cuticular plate in OHC, and a thick reticular lamina, 3) robust cup formation of the Deiters cell body, 4) the high development of cytoskeleton in Deiters and pillar cells and 5) the basilar membrane high stiffness. Interestingly, all these features, including a common molecular design of prestin, are also shared by echolocating bats, suggesting a convergent evolution in echolocating species. The presence of scars among hair cell rows, the pattern of stereocilia imprints in the tectorial membrane and the condition of fibrocytes II and IV were criteria suitable to determine or discard possible acoustic trauma, despite the numerous artefacts that rapidly develop as a consequence of tissue autolysis. Consequently, matching the preliminary approximation of the cochlear frequency map with the damaged region would bring information on the sound source that would have triggered a possible lesion.
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