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Hear Res. 2005 Jun;204(1-2):60-77.

Experimental ossicular fixations and the middle ear's response to sound: evidence for a flexible ossicular chain.

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  • 1Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


A human temporal-bone preparation was used to determine the effects of various degrees of artificial ossicular fixation on the sound-induced velocity at the input-side (the umbo of the malleus) and the output-side (the stapes) of the ossicular chain. Construction of various degrees of attachment between an ossicle and the surrounding temporal bone provided a range of reduction in ossicular mobility or "fixations". The results demonstrate different effects of the fixations on the umbo and stapes velocity: fixations of the stapes or incus produce larger reductions in sound-induced stapes velocity (as much as 40-50 dB with extensive stapes fixation), than reductions in umbo velocity (typically less than 10 dB). Fixations of the malleus produce similar-sized changes in both umbo and stapes velocity. These differential effects are consistent with significant flexibility in the ossicular joints (the incudo-malleolar joint and the incudo-stapedial joint) that permits relative motion between the coupled ossicles. The existence of flexibility in the ossicular joints indicates that joints in the ossicular chain can effect a loss of sound-induced mechanical energy between the umbo and the stapes, with a concomitant reduction in the sound-induced motion of the stapes. The introduction of such losses in sound transmission by the joints raises questions concerning the utility of three ossicles in the mammalian ear. The consequences of ossicular flexibility to ossicular-chain reconstruction is discussed. Also, as examined in a more clinically directed paper [Laryngoscope 115 (2005) 147], the different effects of the various ossicular fixations on the motion of the umbo and malleus may be useful in the diagnosis of the site of fixations in humans with conductive hearing losses caused by such pathologies.

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