Effects of model definitions and parameter values in finite element modeling of human middle ear mechanics

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Abstract

Background:

Despite continuing advances in finite element software, the realistic simulation of middle ear response under acoustic stimulation continues to be challenging. One reason for this is the wide range of possible choices that can be made during the definition of a model. Therefore, an explorative study of the relative influences of some of these choices is potentially very helpful.

Method:

Three finite element models of the human middle ear were constructed, based on high-resolution micro-computed tomography scans from three different human temporal bones. Interesting variations in modeling definitions and parameter values were selected and their influences on middle ear transmission were evaluated. The models were compared against different experimental validation criteria, both from the literature and from our own measurements. Simulation conditions were restricted to the frequency range 0.1–10 kHz.

Results:

Modeling the three geometries with the same modeling definitions and parameters produces stapes footplate response curves that exhibit similar shapes, but quantitative differences of 4 dB in the lower frequencies and up to 6 dB around the resonance peaks. The model properties with the largest influences on our model outcomes are the tympanic membrane (TM) damping and stiffness and the cochlear load. Model changes with a small to negligible influence include the isotropy or orthotropy of the TM, the geometry of the connection between the TM and the malleus, the microstructure of the incudostapedial joint, and the length of the tensor tympani tendon.

Conclusion:

The presented results provide insights into the importance of different features in middle ear finite element modeling. The application of three different individual middle ear geometries in a single study reduces the possibility that the conclusions are strongly affected by geometrical abnormalities. Some modeling variations that were hypothesized to be influential turned out to be of minor importance. Furthermore, it could be confirmed that different geometries, simulated using the same parameters and definitions, can produce significantly different responses.

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