Progress in cochlear physiology after Békésy

John J. Guinan, Alec Salt, Mary Ann Cheatham

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In the fifty years since Békésy was awarded the Nobel Prize, cochlear physiology has blossomed. Many topics that are now current are things Békésy could not have imagined. In this review we start by describing progress in understanding the origin of cochlear gross potentials, particularly the cochlear microphonic, an area in which Békésy had extensive experience. We then review progress in areas of cochlear physiology that were mostly unknown to Békésy, including: (1) stereocilia mechano-electrical transduction, force production, and response amplification, (2) outer hair cell (OHC) somatic motility and its molecular basis in prestin, (3) cochlear amplification and related micromechanics, including the evidence that prestin is the main motor for cochlear amplification, (4) the influence of the tectorial membrane, (5) cochlear micromechanics and the mechanical drives to inner hair cell stereocilia, (6) otoacoustic emissions, and (7) olivocochlear efferents and their influence on cochlear physiology. We then return to a subject that Békésy knew well: cochlear fluids and standing currents, as well as our present understanding of energy dependence on the lateral wall of the cochlea. Finally, we touch on cochlear pathologies including noise damage and aging, with an emphasis on where the field might go in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalHearing research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 2012


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