Mechanical properties and consequences of stereocilia and extracellular links in vestibular hair bundles
Although knowledge of the. ne structure of vestibular hair bundles is increasing, the mechanical properties and functional significance of those structures remain unclear. In 2004, Bashtanov and colleagues reported the contribution of different extracellular links to bundle stiffness. We simulated Bashtanov's experimental protocol using a three-dimensional finite element bundle model with geometry measured from a typical striolar hair cell. Unlike any previous models, we separately consider two types of horizontal links: shaft links and upper lateral links. Our most important results are as follows. First, we identified the material properties required to match Bashtanov's experiment: stereocilia Young's modulus of 0.74 GPa, tip link assembly (gating spring) stiffness of 5300 pN/μm, and the combined stiffness of shaft links binding two adjacent stereocilia of 750 similar to 2250 pN/μm. Second, we conclude that upper lateral links are likely to have nonlinear mechanical properties: they have minimal stiffness during small bundle deformations but stiffen as the bundle deflects further. Third, we estimated the stiffness of the gating spring based on our realistic three-dimensional bundle model rather than a conventional model relying on the parallel arrangement assumption. Our predicted stiffness of the gating spring was greater than the previous estimation.