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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Oct 24;97(22):11751-8.

The spatial and temporal representation of a tone on the guinea pig basilar membrane.

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer Brighton, BN1 9QG, United Kingdom.


In the mammalian cochlea, the basilar membrane's (BM) mechanical responses are amplified, and frequency tuning is sharpened through active feedback from the electromotile outer hair cells (OHCs). To be effective, OHC feedback must be delivered to the correct region of the BM and introduced at the appropriate time in each cycle of BM displacement. To investigate when OHCs contribute to cochlear amplification, a laser-diode interferometer was used to measure tone-evoked BM displacements in the basal turn of the guinea pig cochlea. Measurements were made at multiple sites across the width of the BM, which are tuned to the same characteristic frequency (CF). In response to CF tones, the largest displacements occur in the OHC region and phase lead those measured beneath the outer pillar cells and adjacent to the spiral ligament by about 90 degrees. Postmortem, responses beneath the OHCs are reduced by up to 65 dB, and all regions across the width of the BM move in unison. We suggest that OHCs amplify BM responses to CF tones when the BM is moving at maximum velocity. In regions of the BM where OHCs contribute to its motion, the responses are compressive and nonlinear. We measured the distribution of nonlinear compressive vibrations along the length of the BM in response to a single frequency tone and estimated that OHC amplification is restricted to a 1.25- to 1.40-mm length of BM centered on the CF place.

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