inner ear speech processing oticon

New Research Uncovers Function of Inner Ear Involved in Speech Processing

SOMERSET, NEW JERSEY – Research recently published in Science Communications, by an international team of researchers from Oticon and Interacoustics, has revealed a previously undiscovered function in the inner ear that detects the acoustic details in speech before it is converted into information for the brain.

The findings may help professionals learn more about individual hearing loss, lead to more precise diagnostic equipment and improve the personalization of hearing aids.


A Deeper Understanding of How the Ear Processes Speech


To understand speech, vital acoustic details enable us to distinguish words. Only a small amount of this detail is needed for speech recognition but to date, the mechanism used by the auditory system to extract the detail was not known. The new revelation is an important addition to understanding how the inner ear and our sense of hearing work.

The new discovery may allow professionals to more precisely individualize hearing loss diagnosis and could spearhead the development of better, more personalized hearing aids.

The paper, entitled ‘A mechanoelectrical mechanism for detection of sound envelopes in the hearing organ’, is the result of a study spanning nine years. The research was initiated in 2009 by three principal researchers, including Thomas Lunner, PhD, professor and Research Area Manager, Cognitive Hearing Science, Eriksholm Research Centre, part of Oticon. James Harte, PhD, Director, Interacoustics Research Unit, part of William Demant, quickly became involved in the study, which concluded as a collaboration among no fewer than 13 prominent physicists and inner ear researchers from five countries.

“We are now able to better understand a part of the hearing system that was not known before. Sound travels through the ear as mechanical waves, which is then translated into electrical pulses for the brain by the outer and inner hair cells. To date, it has only been possible to diagnose the health of outer hair cells, for example, in newborn screening. This research could make the first methods to diagnose the health of inner hair cells possible, which has the potential to improve individualized hearing aid processing to better support brain functions, ultimately reducing the effort placed on the brain to understand sound.” –Thomas Lunner, PhD

The new research may pave the way for exciting, completely original tools for diagnosis of hearing loss.



Nuttall AL, Ricci AJ, Burwood G, et al. A mechanoelectrical mechanism for detection of sound envelopes in the hearing organ. Nature Communications. 2018; 9:4175.


Source: Oticon, Nature Communications