Mammalian hearing owes its remarkable sensitivity and frequency selectivity to a local mechanical feedback process within the cochlea. Cochlear outer hair cells (OHCs) function as the key elements in the feedback loop in which the fast somatic motility of OHCs is thought to be the source of cochlear amplification. An alternative view is that amplification arises from active hair-bundle movement, similar to that seen in nonmammalian hair cells. We measured voltage-evoked hair-bundle motions in the gerbil cochlea to determine if such movements were also present in mammalian OHCs. The OHCs showed bundle movement with peak responses of up to 830 nm. The movement was insensitive to manipulations that would normally block mechanotransduction in the stereocilia, and it was absent in neonatal OHCs and prestin-knockout OHCs. These findings suggest that the bundle movement originated in somatic motility and that somatic motility has a central role in cochlear amplification in mammals.
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