Cochlear mechanics: what we think we know and what we may or may not know

Mario Ruggero
Northwestern University

There are now fairly complete descriptions of the vibrations of the basilar-membrane in
the basal region of the normal cochleae of adult mammals. Much less is known about
vibrations in other cochlear regions. It is not surprising that we still don’t know whether
the so-called “active process” in the mammalian cochlea actually involves amplification
(i.e., the injection of biological energy additional to the stimulus energy). It is surprising,
however, that cochlear mechanical phenomena such as the nature of “the” basilar-membrane
traveling wave, first investigated more than seven decades ago, remain under
debate. For example: what are the concomitant delays of the traveling wave as function
of longitudinal cochlear position?; is the basilar-membrane traveling wave an
epiphenomenon?; does it exhibit the minimum-phase property?; are there reverse
traveling waves?. I will discuss these and related questions, including the origin of
otoacoustic emissions and the translation of mechanical cochlear events into the spike
trains of auditory-nerve fibers.

Presentation (PowerPoint File)

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