One of the mechanisms involved in hearing is similar to the battery in your car, shows researchers, including one of Indian origin.
The University of Iowa researchers advanced their knowledge of human hearing by studying a similar auditory system in fruit flies - and by making use of the fruit fly "love song."
To see how the mechanism of hearing resembles a battery, you need to know that the auditory system of the fruit fly contains a protein that functions as a sodium/potassium pump, often called the sodium pump for short, and is highly expressed in a specialized support cell called the scolopale cell.
The scolopale cell is important because it wraps around the sensory endings in the fly's ear and makes a tight extra-cellular cavity or compartment around them called the scolopale space.
"You could think of these compartments as similar to the compartments of a battery that need to be charged up so they can drive electrons through circuits," Daniel Eberl said.
"In the auditory system, the charge in the scolopale space drives ions, or electrically charged atoms, through membrane channels in the sensory endings that open briefly in response to activation by sounds".
"Our work shows that the sodium pump plays a particularly important role in this cell to help replenish or recharge this compartment with the right ions. The human ear also relies on a compartment called the scala media, which similarly drives ions into the sensory cells of the ear," he said.
The research was done with the help of fruit fly love song.
Testing whether or not a fruit fly can hear the love song-a sound generated by a vibrating wing-enables Eberl to learn whether electrical recharging is occurring in the fly ear. The fruit fly love song played a role in the research by stimulating the fly to move whenever a sound was emitted and received.
"In these experiments we tested the fly's hearing by inserting tiny electrodes in the fly's antenna, then measuring the electrical responses when we play back computer-generated love songs," he said.
Eberl notes there are many similarities between fruit fly and human mechanisms of hearing. That means his work on the fly model to identify additional new components required for generating the correct ion balance in the ear will help scientists to understand the human process in more detail.
The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.