We hear sounds in part because tiny filaments inside our inner ears help convert voices, music and noises into electrical signals that are sent to our brains for processing. Now, scientists have mapped and simulated those filaments at the atomic level, a discovery that shed lights on how the inner ear works and that could help researchers learn more about how and why people lose the ability to hear.
The findings, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involve very fine filaments in the inner ear called tip links. When sound vibrations reach the inner ear, the vibrations cause those tip links to stretch and open ion channels of sensory cells within the inner-ear cochlea, a tiny snail-shaped organ that allows our brains to sense sound. When tip links open those channels, that act triggers the cochlear electrical signals that we interpret as sound.
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