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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37667. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037667. Epub 2012 May 31.

Modeling electrically active viscoelastic membranes.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.

Abstract

The membrane protein prestin is native to the cochlear outer hair cell that is crucial to the ear's amplification and frequency selectivity throughout the whole acoustic frequency range. The outer hair cell exhibits interrelated dimensional changes, force generation, and electric charge transfer. Cells transfected with prestin acquire unique active properties similar to those in the native cell that have also been useful in understanding the process. Here we propose a model describing the major electromechanical features of such active membranes. The model derived from thermodynamic principles is in the form of integral relationships between the history of voltage and membrane resultants as independent variables and the charge density and strains as dependent variables. The proposed model is applied to the analysis of an active force produced by the outer hair cell in response to a harmonic electric field. Our analysis reveals the mechanism of the outer hair cell active (isometric) force having an almost constant amplitude and phase up to 80 kHz. We found that the frequency-invariance of the force is a result of interplay between the electrical filtering associated with prestin and power law viscoelasticity of the surrounding membrane. Paradoxically, the membrane viscoelasticity boosts the force balancing the electrical filtering effect. We also consider various modes of electromechanical coupling in membrane with prestin associated with mechanical perturbations in the cell. We consider pressure or strains applied step-wise or at a constant rate and compute the time course of the resulting electric charge. The results obtained here are important for the analysis of electromechanical properties of membranes, cells, and biological materials as well as for a better understanding of the mechanism of hearing and the role of the protein prestin in this mechanism.

PMID:
22701528
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3365126
Free PMC Article
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