, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 153-166,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 31 Mar 2007

Similarity of Traveling-Wave Delays in the Hearing Organs of Humans and Other Tetrapods


Transduction of sound in mammalian ears is mediated by basilar-membrane waves exhibiting delays that increase systematically with distance from the cochlear base. Most contemporary accounts of such “traveling-wave” delays in humans have ignored postmortem basilar-membrane measurements in favor of indirect in vivo estimates derived from brainstem-evoked responses, compound action potentials, and otoacoustic emissions. Here, we show that those indirect delay estimates are either flawed or inadequately calibrated. In particular, we argue against assertions based on indirect estimates that basilar-membrane delays are much longer in humans than in experimental animals. We also estimate in vivo basilar-membrane delays in humans by correcting postmortem measurements in humans according to the effects of death on basilar-membrane vibrations in other mammalian species. The estimated in vivo basilar-membrane delays in humans are similar to delays in the hearing organs of other tetrapods, including those in which basilar membranes do not sustain traveling waves or that lack basilar membranes altogether.