Development of the gerbil inner ear observed in the hemicochlea

C. P. Richter*, R. Edge, D. Z.Z. He, P. Dallos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


A frequency-dependent change in hearing sensitivity occurs during maturation in the basal gerbil cochlea. This change takes place during the first week after the onset of hearing. It has been argued that the mass of a given cochlear segment decreases during development and thus increases the best frequency. Changes in mass during cochlear maturation have been estimated previously by measuring the changes in cochlear dimensions. Fixed, dehydrated, embedded, or sputter-coated tissues were used in such work. However, dehydration of the tissue, a part of most histological techniques, results in severe distortion of some aspects of cochlear morphology. The present experiments, using a novel preparation, the hemicochlea, show that hydrated structures, such as the tectorial membrane and the basilar membrane hyaline matrix, are up to 100% larger than estimated previous studies. Therefore, the hemicochlea was used to study the development of cochlear morphology in the gerbil between the day of birth and postnatal day 19. We used no protocols that would have resulted in severe distortion of cochlear elements. Consequently, a detailed study of cochlear morphology yields several measures that differ from previously published data. Our experiments confirm growth patterns of the cochlea that include a period of remarkably rapid change between postnatal day 6 and 8. The accelerated growth starts in the middle of the cochlea and progresses toward the base and the apex. In particular, the increase in height of Deiters' cells dominated the change, "pushing" the tectorial membrane toward scala vestibuli. This resulted in a shape change of the tectorial membrane and the organ of Corti. The tectorial membrane was properly extended above the outer hair cells by postnatal day 12. This time coincides with the onset of hearing. The basilar membrane hyaline matrix increased in thickness, whereas the multilayered tympanic cover layer cells decreased to a single band of cells by postnatal day 19. Before and after the period of rapid growth, the observed gross morphological changes are rather small. It is unlikely that dimensional changes of cochlear structures between postnatal days 12 and 19 contribute significantly in the remapping of the frequency-place code in the base of the cochlea. Instead, structural changes affecting the stiffness of the cochlear partition might be responsible for the shift in best frequency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-210
Number of pages16
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


  • Anatomy
  • Cochlea
  • Development
  • Frequency-place code
  • Hearing
  • Hemicochlea
  • Morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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