Auditory Collusion and a Coupled Couple of Outer Hair Cells

Nature. 1999 May 27;399(6734):359-62. doi: 10.1038/20686.


The discrepancies between measured frequency responses of the basilar membrane in the inner ear and the frequency tuning found in psychophysical experiments led to Bekesy's idea of lateral inhibition in the auditory nervous system. We now know that basilar membrane tuning can account for neural tuning, and that sharpening of the passive travelling wave depends on the mechanical activity of outer hair cells (OHCs)3, but the mechanism by which OHCs enhance tuning remains unclear. OHCs generate voltage-dependent length changes at acoustic rates, which deform the cochlear partition. Here we use an electrical correlate of OHC mechanical activity, the motility-related gating current, to investigate mechano-electrical interactions among adjacent OHCs. We show that the motility caused by voltage stimulation of one cell in a group evokes gating currents in adjacent OHCs. The resulting polarization in adjacent cells is opposite to that within the stimulated cell, which may be indicative of lateral inhibition. Also such interactions promote distortion and suppression in the electrical and, consequently, the mechanical activity of OHCs. Lateral interactions may provide a basis for enhanced frequency selectivity in the basilar membrane of mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Basilar Membrane / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electrophysiology
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Hair Cells, Auditory, Outer / physiology*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Organ of Corti / cytology
  • Organ of Corti / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques


  • Ion Channels