Mechanical amplification of acoustic signals is apparently a common feature of vertebrate auditory organs. In non-mammalian vertebrates amplification is produced by stereociliary processes, related to the mechanotransducer channel complex and probably to the phenomenon of fast adaptation. The extended frequency range of the mammalian cochlea has probably co-evolved with a novel hair cell type, the outer hair cell and its constituent membrane protein, prestin. Cylindrical outer hair cells are motile and their somatic length changes are voltage driven and powered by prestin. One of the central outstanding problems in mammalian cochlear neurobiology is the relation between the two amplification processes.
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