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Hearing and balance disorders arise predominantly from inner-ear dysfunction. The goal of the Ó Maoiléidigh group is to understand the mechanisms by which information is processed by the inner ear for transmission to the brain.

We employ mathematical and computational approaches to investigate auditory and vestibular systems. To be of use, a mathematical model must make experimentally testable predictions and it should be clear which features of the model are critical for correspondence with experiment.

In general, the requirements of prediction and correspondence pose a significant challenge for modeling in view of the complexity of biological systems and the evolution of many solutions to each environmental problem. We tackle these issues using comparative modeling. By comparing the structure of and predictions arising from different models, we learn which features of a system are responsible for particular experimental observations. Using this approach we improve our understanding of contemporary experimental observations, make experimentally testable predictions, and motivate new experiments (see figure for an example). Progress in the treatment of dysfunction can be accelerated by understanding the mechanisms underlying normal and impaired function.

Research Areas

Hair-bundle Mechanics

The hair bundle is the organelle that converts mechanical input into electrical output for transmission to the brain in the auditory, vestibular and lateral line systems of all vertebrates. The structure of a hair bundle determines its function.

Mechanics of the Ear

An active process boosts vibrations in the inner ear arising from sound, which largely determine the signal sent to the brain, more than a thousandfold. Although absence of the active process results in profound hearing loss, there is no consensus as to its mechanism.

Synaptic Dynamics

The output of the inner ear is filtered by hair-cell synapses. For example, the synapses of some hair cells exhibit frequency selectivity. We are interested in the relationship between inner-ear mechanics, electrical activity, and synaptic dynamics.

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