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Hair cell morphology and innervation in the basilar papilla of the emu

, : Hair cell morphology and innervation in the basilar papilla of the emu. Hearing Research 121(1-2): 112-124, July

The emu, being a member of the rather primitive bird group of the palaeognathid Ratitae, may reveal primitives features of the avian basilar papilla. There are, however, no qualitative differences with the papillae of other birds such as the chicken or the starling. There are only quantitative differences in the continuous morphological gradients (such as hair cell height, stereovillar height) from neural to abneural, and from the base to the apex of the papilla. Only few (about two in the emu) afferent terminals and on average one efferent fiber contact each hair cell. Along the abneural edge, there is a population of hair cells that lack afferent innervation (short hair cells), suggesting that their function must lie in the papilla itself. There is thus a general pattern in the structure of the avian basillar papilla. In detail, however, a number of primitive characters were observed in the emu,as compared to advanced birds such as the starling and the barn owl. The hair cells are very densely packed and comparatively tall (up to 40 mum in the apex). This anatomy correlates well with the good lower-frequency hearing (see Koppl and Manley, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 101 (1997) 1574-1584). The afferent nerve fibers contacting the hair cells within the basilar papilla are rather thick, and there are a large number of afferent fibers that contact more than one hair cell. The zone of hair cells without afferent innervation (short hair cells) along the abneural edge of the basilar papilla is rather narrow in the emu.


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