Ultrastructural examination was undertaken to investigate the pathogenesis of age-related atrophy of the stria vascularis (StV). Basement membrane (BM) thickness was increased in 65-85% of strial capillaries in gerbils aged 33 months or older and often exceeded by several-fold that observed in young controls. In an early stage of thickening the BM expanded slightly around the full capillary profile, after which nodular expansions of BM encircling slender cell processes were often observed at or near one or both poles of the elliptical vessel profile. As widening progressed, the BM consisted of 2-3 layers separated by cell processes in the nodules but fewer strata elsewhere. Association of slender processes of both endothelial cells and pericytes with focal thickening outside the process suggested their participation in genesis of the capillary lesion. In later stages of atrophy, pericytes degenerated and disappeared, while endothelial cells remained intact. Eventually, thick multilayered BM devoid of endothelial cells surrounded a narrow lumen occluded by debris. The age-related change in BM in the inner ear was confined to StV capillaries. Degenerative changes in StV epithelial cells occurred apparently as a secondary consequence of the capillary lesion. The pathologic alterations in marginal cells included extrusion of blebs from the luminal surface, separation and loss of basolateral interfoldings, alteration and depletion of mitochondria and nuclear pyknosis. At the end-stage of degeneration, the StV consisted of a simple or multiple layer of squamous cells lining the scala media.
- Inner ear