An outer hair cell-powered global hydromechanical mechanism for cochlear amplification

Wenxuan He, George Burwood, Anders Fridberger, Alfred L. Nuttall, Tianying Ren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


It is a common belief that the mammalian cochlea achieves its exquisite sensitivity, frequency selectivity, and dynamic range through an outer hair cell-based active process, or cochlear amplification. As a sound-induced traveling wave propagates from the cochlear base toward the apex, outer hair cells at a narrow region amplify the low level sound-induced vibration through a local feedback mechanism. This widely accepted theory has been tested by measuring sound-induced sub-nanometer vibrations within the organ of Corti in the sensitive living cochleae using heterodyne low-coherence interferometry and optical coherence tomography. The aim of this short review is to summarize experimental findings on the cochlear active process by the authors’ group. Our data show that outer hair cells are able to generate substantial forces for driving the cochlear partition at all audible frequencies in vivo. The acoustically induced reticular lamina vibration is larger and more broadly tuned than the basilar membrane vibration. The reticular lamina and basilar membrane vibrate approximately in opposite directions at low frequencies and in the same direction at the best frequency. The group delay of the reticular lamina is larger than that of the basilar membrane. The magnitude and phase differences between the reticular lamina and basilar membrane vibration are physiologically vulnerable. These results contradict predictions based on the local feedback mechanism but suggest a global hydromechanical mechanism for cochlear amplification. This article is part of the Special Issue Outer hair cell Edited by Joseph Santos-Sacchi and Kumar Navaratnam.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108407
JournalHearing Research
StatePublished - Sep 15 2022


  • Basilar membrane
  • Cochlea
  • Interferometer
  • Outer hair cells
  • Reticular lamina
  • Traveling wave

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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