Mass distribution and rotational inertia of “microtype” and “freely mobile” middle ear ossicles in rodents

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Abstract

The middle ears of seven species of rodents, including four hamster species, were examined under light microscopy and through micro-CT imaging. Hamsters were found to possess a spectrum of ossicular morphologies ranging from something approaching “freely mobile” (Mesocricetus) to something nearer the “microtype” (Cricetulus), although no hamster has an orbicular apophysis of the malleus. Rats, mice and Calomyscus were found to have typically microtype ossicles. To explore the functional effects of these morphological differences, CT scan data were used to calculate the magnitudes of the moments of inertia and positions of the centres of mass and principal rotational axes for the malleus-incus complexes. Microtype species were found to have much greater ossicular inertias, relative to size, about the “anatomical axis” extending between anterior process of the malleus and short process of the incus; ossicular centres of mass were displaced further from this axis. Calculated inertial values were then put into an existing model of middle ear function (Hemilä et al., 1995), in order to see whether the more accurate data would improve predictions of upper hearing limits. For the rat and mouse they did, but this was not so for the hamster Mesocricetus. This might indicate that the inner rather than the middle ear limits hearing in this species, or might simply reflect other shortcomings of the model. Functional differences appear to exist even among rodent ears of the same general type, but the adaptive significance of these differences remains enigmatic.

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