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Three-dimensional current flow in a large-scale model of the cochlea and the mechanism of amplification of sound

By Pavel Mistrík, Chris Mullaley, Fabio Mammano and Jonathan Ashmore


The mammalian inner ear uses its sensory hair cells to detect and amplify incoming sound. It is unclear whether cochlear amplification arises uniquely from a voltage-dependent mechanism (electromotility) associated with outer hair cells (OHCs) or whether other mechanisms are necessary, for the voltage response of OHCs is apparently attenuated excessively by the membrane electrical filter. The cochlea contains many thousands of hair cells organized in extensive arrays, embedded in an electrically coupled system of supporting cells. We have therefore constructed a multi-element, large-scale computational model of cochlear sound transduction to study the underlying potassium (K+) recirculation. We have included experimentally determined parameters of cochlear macromechanics, which govern sound transduction, and data on hair cells' electrical parameters including tonotopical variation in the membrane conductance of OHCs. In agreement with the experiment, the model predicts an exponential decay of extracellular longitudinal K+ current spread. In contrast to the predictions from isolated cells, it also predicts low attenuation of the OHC transmembrane receptor potential (−5 dB per decade) in the 0.2–30 kHz range. This suggests that OHC electromotility could be driven by the transmembrane potential. Furthermore, the OHC electromotility could serve as a single amplification mechanism over the entire hearing range

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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