In hair cells, although mechanotransduction channels have been localized to tips of shorter stereocilia of the mechanically sensitive hair bundle, little is known about how force is transmitted to the channel. Here, we use a biophysical model of the membrane-channel complex to analyze the nature of the gating spring compliance and channel arrangement. We use a triangulated surface model and Monte Carlo simulation to compute the deformation of the membrane under the action of tip link force. We show that depending on the gating spring stiffness, the compliant component of the gating spring arises from either the membrane alone or a combination of the membrane and a tether that connects the channel to the actin cytoskeleton. If a bundle is characterized by relatively soft gating springs, such as those of the bullfrog sacculus, the need for membrane reinforcement by channel tethering then depends on membrane parameters. With stiffer gating springs, such as those from rat outer hair cells, the channel must be tethered for all biophysically realistic parameters of the membrane. We compute the membrane forces (resultants), which depend on membrane tension, bending modulus, and curvature, and show that they can determine the fate of the channel.
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