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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Structural Aspects of Slow Mechanical Adaptation in the Vertebrate Cochlea


Anatomical and experimental data suggesting a slow adaptation of cochlear mechanics are summarized and discussed. All groups of terrestrial vertebrates, possessing advanced hearing—mammals, Archosauria (birds and crocodiles) and lizards—developed intrinsic cochlear specializations, which may adjust cochlear mechanics and therefore adapt hearing to different acoustic environments, or protect the cochlea from excessive mechanical stimuli. Mammalian outer hair cells, several types of supporting cells, hyaline and homogene in birds and crocodiles, and putative contractile cells of the cochlear lateral wall in mammals and in geckos may provide structural basis for the slow mechanical adaptation. Independent appearance of these specializations in animals that developed different cochlear designs may indicate that the maintenance of “mechanical homeostasis” is a common requirement for the highly organized hearing organ.

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