'Dancing' Hair Cells Make Hearing Happen

Friday, May 9, 2008 - 16:17 in Physics & Chemistry

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital investigators have found that an electrically powered amplification mechanism in the cochlea of the ear is critical to the acute hearing of humans and other mammals. The findings will enable better understanding of how hearing loss can result from malfunction of this amplification machinery due to genetic mutation or overdose of drugs such as aspirin. Sound entering the cochlea is detected by the vibration of tiny, hair-like cilia that extend from cochlear hair cells. While the cochlea’s “inner hair cells” are only passive detectors, the so-called “outer hair cells” amplify the sound signal as it transforms into an electrical signal that travels to the brain’s auditory center. Without such amplification, hearing would be far less sensitive, since sound waves entering the cochlea are severely diminished as they pass through the inner ear fluid. read more

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