Replicas of the apical surface of hair cells of the inner ear (vestibular organ) were examined after quick freezing and rotary shadowing. With this technique we illustrate two previously undescribed ways in which the actin filaments in the stereocilia and in the cuticular plate are attached to the plasma membrane. First, in each stereocilium there are threadlike connectors running from the actin filament bundle to the limiting membrane. Second, many of the actin filaments in the cuticular plate are connected to the apical cell membrane by tiny branched connecting units like a "crow's foot." Where these "feet" contact the membrane there is a small swelling. These branched "feet" extend mainly from the ends of the actin filaments but some connect the lateral surfaces of the actin filaments as well. Actin filaments in the cuticular plate are also connected to each other by finer filaments, 3 nm in thickness and 74 +/- 14 nm in length. Interestingly, these 3-nm filaments (which measure 4 nm in replicas) connect actin filaments not only of the same polarity but of opposite polarities as documented by examining replicas of the cuticular plate which had been decorated with subfragment 1 (S1) of myosin. At the apicolateral margins of the cell we find two populations of actin filaments, one just beneath the tight junction as a network, the other at the level of the zonula adherens as a ring. The latter which is quite substantial is composed of actin filaments that run parallel to each other; adjacent filaments often show opposite polarities, as evidenced by S1 decoration. The filaments making up this ring are connected together by the 3-nm connectors. Because of the polarity of the filaments this ring may be a "contractile" ring; the implications of this is discussed.

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