Mechanosensory hair cells in the ear are exquisitely responsive to minute sensory inputs, nearly to the point of instability. Active mechanisms bias the transduction apparatus and subsequent electrical amplification away from saturation in either the negative or positive direction, to an operating point where the response to small signals is approximately linear. An active force generator coupled directly to the transducer enhances sensitivity and frequency selectivity, and counteracts energy loss to viscous drag. Active electrical amplification further enhances gain and frequency selectivity. In both cases, nonlinear properties may maintain the system close to instability, as evidenced by small spontaneous oscillations, while providing a compressive nonlinearity that increases the cell's operating range. Transmitter release also appears to be frequency selective and biased to operate most effectively near the resting potential. This brief overview will consider the resting stability of hair cells, and their responses to small perturbations that correspond to soft sounds or small accelerations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1775-1780
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Adaptation
  • Electrical resonance
  • Hair cell
  • Hopf bifurcation
  • Linear
  • Nonlinear
  • Transduction


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