Date: 04 Sep 2010

The Vestibular System Mediates Sensation of Low-Frequency Sounds in Mice

Abstract

The mammalian inner ear contains sense organs responsible for detecting sound, gravity and linear acceleration, and angular acceleration. Of these organs, the cochlea is involved in hearing, while the sacculus and utriculus serve to detect linear acceleration. Recent evidence from birds and mammals, including humans, has shown that the sacculus, a hearing organ in many lower vertebrates, has retained some of its ancestral acoustic sensitivity. Here we provide not only more evidence for the retained acoustic sensitivity of the sacculus, but we also found that acoustic stimulation of the sacculus has behavioral significance in mammals. We show that the amplitude of an elicited auditory startle response is greater when the startle stimuli are presented simultaneously with a low-frequency masker, including masker tones that are outside the sensitivity range of the cochlea. Masker-enhanced auditory startle responses were also observed in otoconia-absent Nox3 mice, which lack otoconia but have no obvious cochlea pathology. However, masker enhancement was not observed in otoconia-absent Nox3 mice if the low-frequency masker tones were outside the sensitivity range of the cochlea. This last observation confirms that otoconial organs, most likely the sacculus, contribute to behavioral responses to low-frequency sounds in mice.