The COCH gene mutated in autosomal dominant sensorineural deafness (DFNA9) encodes cochlin, a major constituent of the inner ear extracellular matrix. Sequence analysis of cochlin from DFNA9 patients identified five distinct single-amino-acid mutations within a conserved region (the LCCL domain) of cochlin. To define the molecular basis of DFNA9, we have generated myc-tagged wild-type and mutant cochlins and explored their behavior in transient transfection systems. Western blotting of cell lysates and culture media indicates that wild-type and mutant cochlins are synthesized and secreted in similar amounts. Immunofluorescent staining confirms that all are detected within the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi complex of transfected cells. Our findings suggest that COCH mutations are unlikely to cause abnormalities in secretion and suggest that extracellular events might cause DFNA9 pathology. In agreement, we show that wild-type cochlin accumulates in extracellular deposits that closely parallel the matrix component fibronectin, whereas mutant cochlins vary in the amount and pattern of extracellular material. Whereas some mutants exhibit an almost normal deposition pattern, some show complete lack of deposition. Our results suggest that DFNA9 results from gene products that fail to integrate correctly into the extracellular matrix. The partial or complete penetrance of integration defects suggests that DFNA9 pathology may be caused by multiple molecular mechanisms, including compromised ability of cochlin to self-assemble or to form appropriate complexes with other matrix components. © Springer-Verlag 2003.