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Nat Rev Neurosci. 2014 Sep;15(9):600-14. doi: 10.1038/nrn3786. Epub 2014 Aug 6.

Integrating the active process of hair cells with cochlear function.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Laboratory of Sensory Neuroscience, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, New York 10065, USA.


Uniquely among human senses, hearing is not simply a passive response to stimulation. Our auditory system is instead enhanced by an active process in cochlear hair cells that amplifies acoustic signals several hundred-fold, sharpens frequency selectivity and broadens the ear's dynamic range. Active motility of the mechanoreceptive hair bundles underlies the active process in amphibians and some reptiles; in mammals, this mechanism operates in conjunction with prestin-based somatic motility. Both individual hair bundles and the cochlea as a whole operate near a dynamical instability, the Hopf bifurcation, which accounts for the cardinal features of the active process.

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