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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Oct 1;99(20):13206-10. Epub 2002 Sep 18.

The roles of the external, middle, and inner ears in determining the bandwidth of hearing.

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  • 1Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Institute for Neuroscience and Hugh Knowles Center, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


The view seems to prevail that the frequency range of hearing is determined by the properties of the outer and middle ears. We argue that this view is an oversimplification, in part because the reactive component of cochlear input impedance, which affects the low-frequency sensitivity of the cochlea, is neglected. Further, we use comparisons of audiograms and transfer functions for stapes (or columella) velocity or pressure in scala vestibuli near the stapes footplate to show that the middle ear by itself is not responsible for limiting high-frequency hearing in the few species for which such comparisons are possible. Finally, we propose that the tonotopic organization of the cochlea plays a crucial role in setting the frequency limits of cochlear sensitivity and hence in determining the bandwidth of hearing.

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