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January 10, 2014

Gerbils provide critical insight into how the ear processes sound

The ear may have a built-in power amplifier, a study suggests.

Gerbils provide critical insight into how the ear processes sound

The cochlea is a coiled part of the inner ear that processes sound and converts information to the brain.

By using live gerbils, researchers from Columbia University have uncovered evidence of how the cochlea actively amplifies sound waves.

The study provides critical insight into how the ear processes sound and can help improve hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Built-in power amplifier

Sensors were tucked in to the ears of live gerbils. These sensors measured small pressure fluctuations and cell-generated voltages within the ear.

The study revealed changes in the vibrations of the sound waves within the ear, so-called phase shifts. These phase shifts suggest that part of the ear is amplifying sound, which indicates that the ear has a built-in power amplifier.

Mechanics of the cochlea

The findings give a better understanding of exactly where sound waves hit the inner ear, as well as the mechanics of the cochlea. The study can then lay the initial building blocks for even better hearing aids and implants in the future.

Better cochlea models could make it possible to focus sound more precisely within the inner ear, theoretically making it possible to both amplify and sharpen hearing.

The study was published in the scientific ”?Biophysical Journal' and carried out by a team of
researchers from Columbia University, led by biomedical engineer Elizabeth Olson.


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