Jonathan B. Sellon, Roozbeh Ghaffari, Shirin Farrahi, Guy P. Richardson and Dennis M. Freeman
Cochlear frequency selectivity plays a key role in our ability to understand speech, and is widely believed to be associated with cochlear amplification. However, genetic studies targeting the tectorial membrane ™ have demonstrated both sharper and broader tuning with no obvious changes in hair bundle or somatic motility mechanisms. For example, cochlear tuning of Tectb–/– mice is significantly sharper than that of TectaY1870C/+ mice, even though TM stiffnesses are similarly reduced relative to wild-type TMs. Here we show that differences in TM viscosity can account for these differences in tuning. In the basal cochlear turn, nanoscale pores of TectaY1870C/+ TMs are significantly larger than those of Tectb–/– TMs. The larger pore size reduces shear viscosity (by ∼70%), thereby reducing traveling wave speed and increasing spread of excitation. These results demonstrate the previously unrecognized importance of TM porosity in cochlear and neural tuning.