Outer hair cells (OHCs) in the mammalian ear exhibit electromotility, electrically driven somatic length changes that are thought to mechanically amplify sound-evoked vibrations. For this amplification to work, OHCs must respond to sounds on a cycle-by-cycle basis even at frequencies that exceed the low-pass corner frequency of their cell membranes. Using in vivo optical vibrometry we tested this theory by measuring sound-evoked motility in the 13-25 kHz region of the gerbil cochlea. OHC vibrations were strongly rectified, and motility exhibited first-order low-pass characteristics with corner frequencies around 3 kHz- more than 2.5 octaves below the frequencies the OHCs are expected to amplify. These observations lead us to suggest that the OHCs operate more like the envelope detectors in a classical gain-control scheme than like high-frequency sound amplifiers. These findings call for a fundamental reconsideration of the role of the OHCs in cochlear function and the causes of cochlear hearing loss.

Additional Metadata
Keywords cochlear amplifier, cochlear mechanics, electromotility, hearing, Mongolian gerbil, neuroscience, outer hair cells, physics of living systems
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.47667, hdl.handle.net/1765/119903
Journal eLife
Citation
Vavakou, A. (Anna), Cooper, N.P. (Nigel P.), & van der Heijden, M. (2019). The frequency limit of outer hair cell motility measured in vivo. eLife, 8. doi:10.7554/eLife.47667