Mammalian middle ear mechanics: A review

Maialen Ugarteburu, Robert H. Withnell, Luis Cardoso, Alessandra Carriero*, Claus Peter Richter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The middle ear is part of the ear in all terrestrial vertebrates. It provides an interface between two media, air and fluid. How does it work? In mammals, the middle ear is traditionally described as increasing gain due to Helmholtz’s hydraulic analogy and the lever action of the malleus-incus complex: in effect, an impedance transformer. The conical shape of the eardrum and a frequency-dependent synovial joint function for the ossicles suggest a greater complexity of function than the traditional view. Here we review acoustico-mechanical measurements of middle ear function and the development of middle ear models based on these measurements. We observe that an impedance-matching mechanism (reducing reflection) rather than an impedance transformer (providing gain) best explains experimental findings. We conclude by considering some outstanding questions about middle ear function, recognizing that we are still learning how the middle ear works.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number983510
JournalFrontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
StatePublished - Oct 10 2022


  • eardrum
  • kinematics, mechanics
  • ligaments
  • middle ear
  • muscles
  • ossicles
  • synovial joints

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Histology


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