A method to measure sound transmission via the malleus–incus complex

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Abstract

Background:

The malleus–incus complex (MIC) plays a crucial role in the hearing process as it transforms and transmits acoustically-induced motion of the tympanic membrane, through the stapes, into the inner-ear. However, the transfer function of the MIC under physiologically-relevant acoustic stimulation is still under debate, especially due to insufficient quantitative data of the vibrational behavior of the MIC. This study focuses on the investigation of the sound transformation through the MIC, based on measurements of three-dimensional motions of the malleus and incus with a full six degrees of freedom (6 DOF).

Methods:

The motion of the MIC was measured in two cadaveric human temporal bones with intact middle-ear structures excited via a loudspeaker embedded in an artificial ear canal, in the frequency range of 0.5–5 kHz. Three-dimensional (3D) shapes of the middle-ear ossicles were obtained by sequent micro-CT imaging, and an intrinsic frame based on the middle-ear anatomy was defined. All data were registered into the intrinsic frame, and rigid body motions of the malleus and incus were calculated with full six degrees of freedom. Then, the transfer function of the MIC, defined as velocity of the incus lenticular process relative to velocity of the malleus umbo, was obtained and analyzed.

Results:

Based on the transfer function of the MIC, the motion of the lenticularis relative to the umbo reduces with frequency, particularly in the 2–5 kHz range. Analysis of the individual motion components of the transfer function indicates a predominant medial-lateral component at frequencies below 1 kHz, with low but considerable anterior-posterior and superior-inferior components that become prominent in the 2–5 kHz range.

Conclusion:

The transfer function of the human MIC, based on motion of the umbo and lenticularis, has been visualized and analyzed. While the magnitude of the transfer function decreases with frequency, its spatio-temporal complexity increases significantly.

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