Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 6 - 2012

Beth Pruitt, Mechanical Engineering
Tony Ricci, Otolaryngology

We propose new biological inquiries on the mechanics of hearing and first ever studies of the interacting amplification mechanisms between hair bundles and somatic OHCs. We seek to understand the mechanosensory and tuning machinery that enable our broad spectrum sense of sound, from a casual conversations and cheers for sporting teams to music appreciation. We aim to demonstrate an integrated system and a new methodology based on a new generation of microfabricated probes that enable simultaneous stimulation and measurement of displacement or force. We can apply force to the sensory cells of our inner ear, known as hair cells, to discover molecular mechanisms of their active frequency tuning and sensitivity. We can also measure the forces generated while stimulating motile hair cells to understand their essential electromechanical coupling. This project will add to our understanding of mechanisms of the active auditory process for both basic and translational applications. The proposed studies will contribute to our understanding of the mechanosensory structures that enable hearing and to investigate fundamental biophysics and disease processes.