1. Neuroscience
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Membrane properties specialize mammalian inner hair cells for frequency or intensity encoding

  1. Stuart L Johnson  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2015;4:e08177 doi: 10.7554/eLife.08177


The auditory pathway faithfully encodes and relays auditory information to the brain with remarkable speed and precision. The inner hair cells (IHCs) are the primary sensory receptors adapted for rapid auditory signalling, but they are not thought to be intrinsically tuned to encode particular sound frequencies. Here I found that under experimental conditions mimicking those in vivo, mammalian IHCs are intrinsically specialized. Low frequency gerbil IHCs (~0.3 kHz) have significantly more depolarised resting membrane potentials, faster kinetics and shorter membrane time constants than high-frequency cells (~30 kHz). The faster kinetics of low-frequency IHCs allow them to follow the phasic component of sound (frequency-following), which is not required for high-frequency cells that are instead optimally configured to encode sustained, graded responses (intensity-following). The intrinsic membrane filtering of IHCs ensures accurate encoding of the phasic or sustained components of the cell's in vivo receptor potential, crucial for sound localisation and ultimately survival.

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Author details

  1. Stuart L Johnson

    Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


Animal experimentation: Animals were killed by cervical dislocation, under schedule 1 in accordance with UK Home Office regulations. All animal studies were licensed by the U.K. Home Officeunder the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and were approved by the University of Sheffield Ethical Review Committee.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Andrew J King, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: April 17, 2015
  2. Accepted: November 6, 2015
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: November 6, 2015 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: December 23, 2015 (version 2)


© 2015, Johnson

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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