Hair cells, the receptors of the inner ear, detect sounds by transducing mechanical vibrations into electrical signals. From the top surface of each hair cell protrudes a mechanical antenna, the hair bundle, which the cell uses to detect and amplify auditory stimuli, thus sharpening frequency selectivity and providing a broad dynamic range. Current methods for mechanically stimulating hair bundles are too slow to encompass the frequency range of mammalian hearing and are plagued by inconsistencies. To overcome these challenges, we have developed a method to move individual hair bundles with photonic force. This technique uses an optical fiber whose tip is tapered to a diameter of a few micrometers and endowed with a ball lens to minimize divergence of the light beam. Here we describe the fabrication, characterization, and application of this optical system and demonstrate the rapid application of photonic force to vestibular and cochlear hair cells.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience