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The Ear: Hair Cells, Organ of Corti & the Auditory Nerve

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  • 0:54 Organ of Corti
  • 1:23 Hair Cells
  • 2:35 Nerves
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
In this lesson, you'll learn the most important things about cranial nerve VIII, the auditory nerve and the Organ of Corti. In addition, you'll realize that even though you may not like it, your ears are quite hairy thanks to hair cells.

Hair Growing in Your Ears

I think a lot of people may cringe if they saw me walking around with a lot of hair sticking out of my ears. However, you may not like to hear this, but you have hairs in your ears, too! In fact, you have a lot of hairs in your ears, but you can't see them. They're really deep down inside your ears and are really tiny.

Regardless, they are critical in helping you hear thing like birds singing, your favorite music or your alarm clock in the morning. These cells are very important in helping to transmit sound waves to an important nerve that travels to your brain, where the sound waves all around you are processed and interpreted into something you can actually use and understand.

The Organ of Corti

The cochlea is the most important part of the inner ear
Cochlea

Your inner ear has a structure called the cochlea in it. This is the most important structure in your inner ear that is involved in the sensation of hearing. Within the cochlea is an important organ, called the Organ of Corti. This is an organ located in the cochlea of the inner ear that converts sound vibrations into nerve impulses, which then travel to the brain for processing and interpretation.

Hair Cells

When sound waves hit your ear drum, the drum vibrates. Think of the sound wave as a drumstick. The drumstick and sound waves both impart a force on the drum and, hence, cause it to vibrate. This vibration causes structures in the middle ear - called ossicles - to vibrate as well. When the ossicles vibrate, they cause another structure (called the oval window) to move back and forth. This movement displaces fluid inside of the cochlea and causes waves to ripple inside of it.

Sound waves hit the eardrum, causing it to vibrate
Sound Waves Hit Eardrum Image

It's kind of like if you were to take a balloon, fill it with water and flick the side of it with your fingers. Once you flick the balloon's side, it will compress, causing the fluid inside the balloon to ripple and send little waves everywhere.

A similar type of process occurs in the cochlea. As the waves move inside the cochlea, they cause other structures to move, and this eventually causes hair cells (that are part of the Organ of Corti) to move as well. These hair cells are sensory receptors inside the cochlea that convert sound into electrochemical nerve impulses.

Cranial Nerve VIII, Auditory Nerve, Vestibulocochlear Nerve

When a hair cell is bent, it transmits a signal to a nerve fiber attached to each hair cell. The nerve fibers that receive a signal from the hair cells are collectively known as the auditory nerve, which is also referred to as the cochlear nerve, or the acoustic nerve.

This is a nerve that comprises one half of the eighth cranial nerve - the vestibulocochlear nerve. It serves to transmit sound information in the form of electrical impulses to the brain for processing and interpretation.

The auditory nerve sends electrical impulses to the brain
Auditory Nerve Brain Diagram

For your reference, the other half of cranial nerve VIII is known as the vestibular nerve, which is responsible for transmitting information about balance to your brain from two structures (known as the vestibule and the semicircular canals). Hence, we take 'vestibule' from the vestibular nerve and 'cochlear' from the cochlear nerve to come up with the formal name for cranial nerve VIII: the vestibulocochlear nerve.

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