Visualization of newt aragonitic otoconial matrices using transmission electron microscopy

P. S. Steyger, M. L. Wiederhold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Otoconia are calcified protein matrices within the gravity-sensing organs of the vertebrate vestibular system. These protein matrices are thought to originate from the supporting or hair cells in the macula during development. Previous studies of mammalian calcitic, barrel-shaped otoconia revealed an organized protein matrix consisting of a thin peripheral layer, a well-defined organic core and a flocculent matrix inbetween. No studies have reported the microscopic organization of the aragonitic otoconial matrix, despite its protein characterization. Pole et al. (1993b) used densitometric methods and inferred that prismatic (aragonitic) otoconia have a peripheral protein distribution, compared to that described for the barrel-shaped, calcitic otoconia of birds, mammals, and the amphibian utricle. By using tannic acid as a negative stain, we observed three kinds of organic matrices in preparations of fixed, decalcified saccular otoconia from the adult newt: (1) fusiform shapes with a homogenous electron-dense matrix; (2) singular and multiple strands of matrix; and (3) more significantly, prismatic shapes outlined by a peripheral organic matrix. These prismatic shapes remain following removal of the gelatinous matrix, revealing an internal array of organic matter. We conclude that prismatic otoconia have a largely peripheral otoconial matrix, as inferred by densitometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-191
Number of pages8
JournalHearing Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Extracellular matrix
  • Otoconia
  • Tannic acid
  • Transmission electron microscopy
  • Vestibular

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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