The light rays in visible wavelength focused on the retina through the cornea and lens generate potentials (impulses) in rods and cones. As mentioned earlier, the photosensitive compounds (photopigments) in the human eyes are composed of opsin (a protein) and retinal (an aldehyde of vitamin A). Light induces dissociation of the retinal from opsin resulting in changes in the structure of the opsin (Fig 44c). This causes membrane permeability changes. As a result, potential differences are generated in the photoreceptor cells. This produces a signal that generates action potentials in the ganglion cells through the bipolar cells. These action potentials (impulses) are transmitted by the optic nerves to the visual cortex area of the brain, where the neural impulses are analyzed and the image formed on the retina is recognized based on earlier memory and experience.
The ears perform two sensory functions, hearing and maintenance of body balance. Anatomically, the ear can be divided into three major sections called the external ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The external ear consists of the pinna and external auditory meatus (canal). The pinna collects the vibrations in the air which produce sound. The external auditory meatus leads inwards and extends up to the tympanic membrane (the ear drum). There are very fine hairs and wax-secreting sebaceous glands in the skin of the pinna and the meatus. The tympanic membrane is composed of connective tissues covered with skin outside and with mucus membrane inside. The middle ear contains three ossicles called malleus, incus and stapes which are attached to one another in a chain-like fashion. The malleus is attached to the tympanic membrane and the stapes is attached to the oval window of the cochlea. The ear ossicles increase the efficiency of transmission of sound waves to the inner ear. A eustachian tube connects the middle ear cavity with the pharynx. The eustachian tube helps in equalizing the pressures on either sides of the ear drum (Fig 44d).
The fluid-filled inner ear called labyrinth consists of two parts, the bony and the membranous labyrinths. The bony labyrinth is a series of channels. Inside these channels lies the membranous labyrinth, which is surrounded by a fluid called perilymph. The membranous labyrinth is filled with a fluid called endolymph. The coiled portion of the labyrinth is called cochlea. The membranes constituting cochlea, the Reissner’s and basilar, divide the surrounding perilymph filled bony labyrinth into an upper scala vestibuli and a lower scala tympani. The space within cochlea called scala media is filled with endolymph. At the base of the cochlea, the scala vestibuli ends at the oval window, while the scala tympani terminate at the round window which opens to the middle ear.
The organ of corti is a structure located on the basilar membrane which contains hair cells that act as auditory receptors. The hair cells are present in rows on the internal side of the organ of corti. The basal end of the hair cell is in close contact with the afferent nerve fibers. A large number of processes called stereo cilia are projected from the apical part of each hair cell. Above the rows of the hair cells is a thin elastic membrane called tectorial membrane (Fig 44e)
The inner ear also contains a complex system called vestibular apparatus, located above the cochlea. The vestibular apparatus is composed of three semi-circular canals and the otolith organ consisting of the saccule and utricle. Each semi-circular canal lies in a different plane at right angles to each other. The membranous canals are suspended in the perilymph of the bony canals. The base of canals is swollen and is called ampulla, which contains a projecting ridge called crista ampullaris which has hair cells. The saccule and utricle contain a projecting ridge called macula. The crista and macula are the specific receptors of the vestibular apparatus responsible for maintenance of balance of the body and posture.
Mechanism of hearing
The external ear receives sound waves and directs them to the ear drum. The ear drum vibrates in response to the sound waves and these vibrations are transmitted through the ear ossicles (malleus, incus and stapes) to the oval window. The vibrations are passed through the oval window on to the fluid of the cochlea, where they generate waves in the lymph. The waves in the lymph induce a ripple in the basilar membrane. These movements of the basilar membrane bend the hair cells, pressing them against the tectorial membrane. As a result, nerve impulses are generated in the associated afferent neurons. These impulses are transmitted by the afferent fibers via auditory nerves to the auditory cortex of the brain, where the impulses are analyzed and the sound is recognized.