, Volume 209, Issue 2-3, pp 119-134
Date: 25 May 2006

Tuning in to the Amazing Outer Hair Cell: Membrane Wizardry with a Twist and Shout

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From Basilar to Plasma Membrane

Over 40 years ago the auditory community rejoiced that frequency tuning in the auditory periphery had been understood, and was proud that von Bekesy received the Nobel Prize for showing us how the basilar membrane (BM) traveling wave provides for mechanical Fourier analysis (von Bekesy, 1960). However, as soon as new techniques were devised to measure smaller movements of the BM than Bekesy could imagine, curious incongruities arose concerning the significance of Bekesy’s measurements. Von Bekesy made much of his measures on preparations that were compromised in a way unknown to him. Thus, the linear extrapolations from his high-intensity measures, which put auditory threshold movements below the diameter of an atom, were becoming unraveled. The problem turns out to be an inherent nonlinearity in the motion of the basilar membrane that is lost upon the slightest insult to the organ of Corti, that sensory epithelium of hair cells which is stimulated by BM ...