OUR RESEARCH

UNDERSTANDING HEARING LOSS

The Hearing Pathway

Sound causes eardrum vibrations that are transmitted to the inner ear by the bones in the middle ear. Vibrations in the inner ear are transformed by sensory cells, known as hair cells, into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Hearing loss is caused by damage to any part of the hearing pathway from the eardrum to the brain. Most hearing impairment arises from defects in the inner ear. Hair cells die owing to age, genetic defects, loud sounds, toxic chemicals, and infections and are not replaced by the body, leading to irreversible hearing loss. By discovering how hearing works, we are developing multiple new approaches to diagnose and treat hearing loss, including protecting and regenerating hair cells, treating infections, and repairing damage to the inner ear.

How Hearing Works

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outer ear
Sound Enters the Ear

Sound Enters the Ear

Sound waves are funneled by the outer ear and ear canal to the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. Eardrum vibrations are conveyed by the middle-ear bones to the inner ear, which converts the vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted along hearing nerves to the brain.

inner ear
The Inner Ear

The Inner Ear

The inner ear comprises five balance organs and the spiral-shaped cochlea containing the hearing organ.

cochlea spirals
The Cochlea

The Cochlea

A cross-section through the cochlea shows three fluid-filled chambers winding along the spiral cochlea. Hearing nerves receive signals from the sensory hair cells along the cochlear length.

organ of corti
The Organ of Corti

The Organ of Corti

The organ of Corti is the hearing organ containing the sensory hair cells. Vibrations of the hearing organ are amplified by outer hair cells and transmitted to the hearing nerves by inner hair cells.

auditory pathway
Auditory Pathway

Auditory Pathway

Hearing nerves transmit information about sound to the auditory cortex in the brain. The signal is passed from one type of hearing nerve to another at relay stations in the brainstem.

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