Bifurcations and phase-locking dynamics in the auditory system

Dolores Bozovic

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 12:00pm
560 Evans Hall

The inner ear constitutes a remarkable biological sensor that exhibits nanometer-scale sensitivity of mechanical detection. The first step in auditory processing is performed by hair cells, which convert movement into electrical signals via opening of mechanically gated ion channels. These cells are operant in a viscous medium, but can nevertheless sustain oscillations, amplify incoming signals, and even exhibit spontaneous motility, indicating the presence of an underlying active amplification system. Theoretical models have proposed that a hair cell constitutes a nonlinear system with an internal feedback mechanism that can drive it across a bifurcation and into an unstable regime. Our experiments explore the nonlinear response as well as feedback mechanisms that enable self-tuning already at the peripheral level, as measured in vitro on sensory tissue. A simple dynamic systems framework will be discussed, that captures the main features of the experimentally observed behavior in the form of an Arnold Tongue.