Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 35489636
Link to DOI – 10.1016/j.mcn.2022.103732
Mol Cell Neurosci 2022 May; 120(): 103732
The vertebrate ear is endowed with remarkable perceptual capabilities. The faintest sounds produce vibrations of magnitudes comparable to those generated by thermal noise and can nonetheless be detected through efficient amplification of small acoustic stimuli. Two mechanisms have been proposed to underlie such sound amplification in the mammalian cochlea: somatic electromotility and active hair-bundle motility. These biomechanical mechanisms may work in concert to tune auditory sensitivity. In addition to amplitude sensitivity, the hearing system shows exceptional frequency discrimination allowing mammals to distinguish complex sounds with great accuracy. For instance, although the wide hearing range of humans encompasses frequencies from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, our frequency resolution extends to one-thirtieth of the interval between successive keys on a piano. In this article, we review the different cochlear mechanisms underlying sound encoding in the auditory system, with a particular focus on the frequency decomposition of sounds. The relation between peak frequency of activation and location along the cochlea – known as tonotopy – arises from multiple gradients in biophysical properties of the sensory epithelium. Tonotopic mapping represents a major organizational principle both in the peripheral hearing system and in higher processing levels and permits the spectral decomposition of complex tones. The ribbon synapses connecting sensory hair cells to auditory afferents and the downstream spiral ganglion neurons are also tuned to process periodic stimuli according to their preferred frequency. Though sensory hair cells and neurons necessarily filter signals beyond a few kHz, many animals can hear well beyond this range. We finally describe how the cochlear structure shapes the neural code for further processing in order to send meaningful information to the brain. Both the phase-locked response of auditory nerve fibers and tonotopy are key to decode sound frequency information and place specific constraints on the downstream neuronal network.