Cochlear Fluid Spaces and Structures of the Gerbil High-Frequency Region Measured Using Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2022 Apr;23(2):195-211. doi: 10.1007/s10162-022-00836-4. Epub 2022 Feb 22.


Since it has been difficult to directly observe the morphology of the living cochlea, our ability to infer the mechanical functioning of the living ear has been limited. Nearly all our knowledge about cochlear morphology comes from postmortem tissue that was fixed and processed using procedures that possibly distort the structures and fluid spaces of the organ of Corti. In this study, optical coherence tomography was employed to obtain volumetric images of the high-frequency hook region of the gerbil cochlea, as viewed through the round window, with far better resolution capability than had been possible before. The anatomical structures and fluid spaces of the organ of Corti were segmented and quantified in vivo and over a 90-min postmortem period. We find that the arcuate-zone and pectinate-zone widths change very little postmortem. The volume of the scala tympani between the round-window membrane and basilar membrane and the volume of the inner spiral sulcus decrease in the first 60-min postmortem. While textbook drawings of the mammalian organ of Corti and cortilymph prominently depict the tunnel of Corti, the outer tunnel is typically missing. This is likely because textbook drawings are typically made from images obtained by histological methods. Here, we show that the outer tunnel is nearly twice as big as the tunnel of Corti or the space of Nuel. This larger outer tunnel fluid space could have a substantial, little-appreciated effect on cochlear micromechanics. We speculate that the outer tunnel forms a resonant structure that may affect reticular-lamina motion.

Keywords: cochlea; cochlear mechanics; cortilymph; gerbil; optical coherence tomography; organ of corti.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basilar Membrane
  • Cochlea / diagnostic imaging
  • Gerbillinae
  • Organ of Corti* / anatomy & histology
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence* / methods