Phase of shear vibrations within cochlear partition leads to activation of the cochlear amplifier

PLoS One. 2014 Feb 14;9(2):e85969. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0085969. eCollection 2014.


Since Georg von Bekesy laid out the place theory of the hearing, researchers have been working to understand the remarkable properties of mammalian hearing. Because access to the cochlea is restricted in live animals, and important aspects of hearing are destroyed in dead ones, models play a key role in interpreting local measurements. Wentzel-Kramers-Brillouin (WKB) models are attractive because they are analytically tractable, appropriate to the oblong geometry of the cochlea, and can predict wave behavior over a large span of the cochlea. Interest in the role the tectorial membrane (TM) plays in cochlear tuning led us to develop models that directly interface the TM with the cochlear fluid. In this work we add an angled shear between the TM and reticular lamina (RL), which serves as an input to a nonlinear active force. This feature plus a novel combination of previous work gives us a model with TM-fluid interaction, TM-RL shear, a nonlinear active force and a second wave mode. The behavior we get leads to the conclusion the phase between the shear and basilar membrane (BM) vibration is critical for amplification. We show there is a transition in this phase that occurs at a frequency below the cutoff, which is strongly influenced by TM stiffness. We describe this mechanism of sharpened BM velocity profile, which demonstrates the importance of the TM in overall cochlear tuning and offers an explanation for the response characteristics of the Tectb mutant mouse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cochlea / physiology*
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Tectorial Membrane / physiology*
  • Vibration*