Modeling the Stimulation of Vestibular Hair Cell Bundles Using Computational Fluid Dynamics and Finite Element Analysis

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Virginia Tech

Computational fluid dynamics and finite element analysis were employed to study vestibular hair cell bundle mechanics under physiologic stimulus conditions. CFD was performed using ANSYS CFX and FEA utilized a custom MATLAB model. Nine varieties of hair cell bundles were modeled using tip-forcing only (commonly used experimentally), fluid-flow only (physiologic for free-standing bundles), and combined loading (physiologic for bundles with tip attachments) conditions to determine how the bundles behaved in each case. The bundles differed in the heights of their components, their length and width, and their number of steriocilia. Tip links were modeled to determine ion-channel opening behavior.

Results show that positive pressures, negative pressures, and shear stresses on the exterior of the bundles are of comparable magnitude. Under combined loading, some bundles experienced very high suction pressures on their interior. The bundles with tall steriocilia are hindered by the endolymph while those with short steriocilia and much taller kinocilia are assisted by the fluid flow.

Each bundle type has a different range over which it is most sensitive so that the bundles cumulatively cover a very large range of stimuli; the order in which bundles respond from smallest stimulus magnitude to largest is free-standing extrastriolar bundles, attached striolar bundles, attached extrastriolar bundles, and free-standing extrastriolar bundles.

A short examination of off-axis loading shows that the prevailing theory suggesting that bundle response is proportional to the cosine of the angle between the stimulus direction and the bundle's direction of maximum excitation is incorrect.

vestibular hair cell bundle, computational fluid dynamics, Finite element method