The hair cells of the vertebrate inner ear convert mechanical stimuli to electrical signals. Two adaptation mechanisms are known to modify the ionic current flowing through the transduction channels of the hair bundles: a rapid process involves Ca2+ ions binding to the channels; and a slower adaptation is associated with the movement of myosin motors. We present a mathematical model of the hair cell which demonstrates that the combination of these two mechanisms can produce "self-tuned critical oscillations", i.e., maintain the hair bundle at the threshold of an oscillatory instability. The characteristic frequency depends on the geometry of the bundle and on the Ca2+ dynamics, but is independent of channel kinetics. Poised on the verge of vibrating, the hair bundle acts as an active amplifier. However, if the hair cell is sufficiently perturbed, other dynamical regimes can occur. These include slow relaxation oscillations which resemble the hair bundle motion observed in some experimental preparations.
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