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Chaotic Dynamics Enhance the Sensitivity of Inner Ear Hair Cells.

  • Author(s): Faber, Justin
  • Bozovic, Dolores
  • et al.
Abstract

Hair cells of the auditory and vestibular systems are capable of detecting sounds that induce sub-nanometer vibrations of the hair bundle, below the stochastic noise levels of the surrounding fluid. Furthermore, the auditory system exhibits a highly rapid response time, in the sub-millisecond regime. We propose that chaotic dynamics enhance the sensitivity and temporal resolution of the hair bundle response, and we provide experimental and theoretical evidence for this effect. We use the Kolmogorov entropy to measure the degree of chaos in the system and the transfer entropy to quantify the amount of stimulus information captured by the detector. By varying the viscosity and ionic composition of the surrounding fluid, we are able to experimentally modulate the degree of chaos observed in the hair bundle dynamics in vitro. We consistently find that the hair bundle is most sensitive to a stimulus of small amplitude when it is poised in the weakly chaotic regime. Further, we show that the response time to a force step decreases with increasing levels of chaos. These results agree well with our numerical simulations of a chaotic Hopf oscillator and suggest that chaos may be responsible for the high sensitivity and rapid temporal response of hair cells.

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