Observations on the number, distribution and morphological peculiarities of muscle spindles in the tensor tympani and stapedius muscle of man

Hear Res. 1999 Sep;135(1-2):71-7. doi: 10.1016/s0378-5955(99)00092-1.


Although the middle ear muscles have been described for the first time more than four hundred years ago their role in modulation and transmission of sound is not yet fully understood. Surprisingly very little is known about proprioceptors in these muscles, especially in man, although this seems to be the key to the understanding of their various functions. Therefore, the question for proprioceptive sensory organs in these muscles is still relevant. The tensor tympani and stapedius muscles of four women who had donated their bodies to our institute were taken. Complete serial sections of these muscles were made which were either impregnated with silver, stained with ferric oxide for acidic polysaccharides or incubated with antibodies against S-100 protein. Thereby four to eight (mean five) muscle spindles distributed along the whole muscle could be detected in the tensor tympani muscles. These spindles contain one to three intrafusal muscle fibres and their length ranges from 140 to 4270 microm (mean 1492.8 microm). Furthermore, in three stapedius muscles one to two (mean 1.7) muscle spindles were found. They were from 350 to 500 microm (mean 482 microm) long and contained only one intrafusal muscle fiber. Regarding the diameter of intrafusal muscle fibers in both, the tensor tympani as well as the stapedius muscle, no difference to extrafusal muscle fibers of these muscles could be detected. The structure of these spindles differs considerably from those found in skeletal muscles. The morphological findings presented strongly suggest that muscle spindles occur regularly in both middle ear muscles. The results presented herein are consistent with clinical findings obtained from electromyographic studies and may help to elucidate all functions the middle ear muscles might serve in man.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscle Spindles / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscle Spindles / physiology
  • Stapedius / anatomy & histology*
  • Stapedius / physiology
  • Tensor Tympani / anatomy & histology*
  • Tensor Tympani / physiology