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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Apr 22;105(16):6162-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0710037105. Epub 2008 Apr 14.

The influence of cochlear shape on low-frequency hearing.

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  • 1Department of Mathematics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240, USA.


The conventional theory about the snail shell shape of the mammalian cochlea is that it evolved essentially and perhaps solely to conserve space inside the skull. Recently, a theory proposed that the spiral's graded curvature enhances the cochlea's mechanical response to low frequencies. This article provides a multispecies analysis of cochlear shape to test this theory and demonstrates that the ratio of the radii of curvature from the outermost and innermost turns of the cochlear spiral is a significant cochlear feature that correlates strongly with low-frequency hearing limits. The ratio, which is a measure of curvature gradient, is a reflection of the ability of cochlear curvature to focus acoustic energy at the outer wall of the cochlear canal as the wave propagates toward the apex of the cochlea.

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