Experimental data on the mechanical properties of the tissues of the mammalian cochlea are essential for understanding the frequency- and location-dependent motion patterns that result in response to incoming sound waves. Within the cochlea, sound-induced vibrations are transduced into neural activity by the organ of Corti, the gross motion of which is dependent on the motion of the underlying basilar membrane. In this study we present data on stiffness of the gerbil basilar membrane measured at multiple positions within a cochlear cross section and at multiple locations along the length of the cochlea. A basic analysis of these data using relatively simple models of cochlear mechanics reveals our most important result: the experimentally measured longitudinal stiffness gradient at the middle of the pectinate zone of the basilar membrane (4.43 dB/mm) can account for changes of best frequency along the length of the cochlea. Furthermore, our results indicate qualitative changes of stiffness-deflection curves as a function of radial position; in particular, there are differences in the rate of stiffness growth with increasing tissue deflection. Longitudinal coupling within the basilar membrane/organ of Corti complex is determined to have a space constant of 21 μm in the middle turn of the cochlea. The bulk of our data was obtained in the hemicochlea preparation, and we include a comparison of this set of data to data obtained in vivo.
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