As part of a long-standing collaboration with NIDCD's Dr. Richard Chadwick and his group, we have been instrumental in a number of projects during the past year. Using primarily the atomic force microscope (AFM), we completed the measurements of the elastic modulus of the tectorial membrane (TM) whose role in hearing is critical but exact mechanism of action remains controversial. It was found that the TM is radially inhomogeneous and that such a property is favorable to the shearing efficiency of the hair cells -- the stimulatory action on the sensory cells. Another issue addressed has to do with the characteristic spiral shape of the mammalian cochlea that has mystified hearing researchers for many years. Various studies have been inconclusive and it has been argued that the only purpose of the shape is packaging of a long channel in a small volume. Some recent work, however, showed strong correlation between low frequency sensitivity and number of turns in the spiral. Our NIDCD collaborators were interested in studying a simplified mathematical model of a spiral cochlea to investigate the effect of the shape on various parameters of energy flow along the spiral. In this instance, computations showed that although energy flow along the spiral channel remains constant, the continuously changing curvature concentrates energy toward the outer channel wall. The energy focusing effect becomes progressively stronger toward the spiral apex where low frequencies are analyzed. Such a phenomenon could have profound effect on low frequency thresholds leading to a potential explanation of the evolutionary utility of the spiral shape in mammals. We are currently analyzing histological sections and CT-scans of a large number of mammalian cochleae to establish the hypothesized correlations between low frequency thresholds and total curvature change along the spiral.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Office of The Director, National Institutes of Health (OD)
Intramural Research (Z01)
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Manoussaki, D; Dimitriadis, E K; Chadwick, R S (2006) Cochlea's graded curvature effect on low frequency waves. Phys Rev Lett 96:088701
Shoelson, Brett; Dimitriadis, Emilios K; Cai, Hongxue et al. (2004) Evidence and implications of inhomogeneity in tectorial membrane elasticity. Biophys J 87:2768-77
Dimitriadis, Emilios K; Horkay, Ferenc; Maresca, Julia et al. (2002) Determination of elastic moduli of thin layers of soft material using the atomic force microscope. Biophys J 82:2798-810
Dimitriadis, E K; Chadwick, R S (1999) Solution of the inverse problem for a linear cochlear model: a tonotopic cochlear amplifier. J Acoust Soc Am 106:1880-92