Tectorial membrane. II: Stiffness measurements in vivo

Hear Res. 1989 Nov;42(2-3):211-27. doi: 10.1016/0378-5955(89)90146-9.


The tectorial membrane is assumed to play a crucial role in the stimulation of the cochlear hair cells and was thought for decades to serve as a stiff anchor for the tips of the hair-cell stereocilia, particularly those belonging to the OHCs. Yet, its stiffness has never been measured under conditions approximating its normal environment in live animals. We have developed a method for doing this. The tectorial membrane is approached through the lateral wall of scala media. The bony cochlear capsule is removed along scala media over somewhat less than 1/4 turn, and the underlying spiral ligament and stria vascularis are carefully reflected. With the help of a three axial hydraulic manipulator, a flexible micropipette filled with isotonic KCl is inserted into the tectorial membrane at one of two different angles and moved either transversally, away from the basilar membrane, or radially, toward or away from the modiolus. This causes the tectorial membrane to be deformed and the micropipette to bend. The micropipette stiffness is calibrated on an instrument of a new kind, so as to convert the bend into force. The calibration allows us to determine the point stiffness of the tectorial membrane from the amount of micropipette bend. The stiffness of the tectorial membrane per unit length has been calculated from the point stiffness with the help of the deformation pattern. Transversal and radial stiffness magnitudes have been determined in the second cochlear turn in Mongolian gerbils. Both are smaller by almost an order of magnitude than the corresponding aggregate stiffness of the OHC stereocilia. As a consequence, the tectorial membrane cannot act as a stiff anchor for the stereocilia but only as a mass load, except at relatively low sound frequencies where mass effects are negligible. This means that the classical model of shear motion between the tectorial membrane and the reticular lamina must be replaced.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cochlea / physiology*
  • Gerbillinae
  • Models, Psychological
  • Physiology / instrumentation
  • Physiology / methods
  • Tectorial Membrane / physiology*