Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Everyone’s baring their souls…..oh i mean mugs, so thought i’d contribute.

This is the mug I was drinking out of at lab. Not really sure where it came from, except that those are suppost to be hair cells on the mug.


Hair cell for comparison:

i-cb56179079c8b6225fe3dec59f6fe5cd-hair cell for mug.bmp

More below the fold……

Got this one in Tong Li, China the first time I went there. It has a nifty ceramic tea strainer and lid.


I used to work in the New College admissions office and picked up this in my tenue there. Transparent mugs are rare and its funny how much I love this mug because of that.



  1. #1 Biomed Tim
    May 18, 2007


    This is so nerdy, but on the hair cell pic:

    How come only the efferent nerve is myelinated?

    It looks like the illustration is trying to convey that deliberately.

  2. #2 Aaron
    May 19, 2007

    Still nerdy, but less nerdy then Biomed Tim.

    Whats the purpose of the efferent nerve ?

  3. #3 Shelley
    May 21, 2007

    Hooray for nerdy questions!

    The efferent nerves in the auditory epithelium are in fact not myelinated, and as you correctly noted the afferent nerves are myelinated (lots of it). My guess as to the reason for why we evolved that way has to do with the hypothesized purpose of the efferent nerves (and I’ll answer Aaron’s question too here.)

    Outer hair cells receive nearly all efferent innervation while inner hair cells receive nearly all afferent innervation. While inner hair cells transmit sensory/acoustical information via the auditory nerve to the brain, the outer hair cells act as physical modifiers to the membranes which they contact. The efferent nerves cause the outer hair cells to physically contract and expand, effectively dampening or increasing the pressure on the tectorial membrane. The vibration of this membrane is what causes the inner hair cells’ stereocilia to deflect and excite afferent nerves and transmit sound info.

    Why might we want to dampen or increase sound? Some say its to “zero in” on salient frequencies in our environment and “tune out” others. Repetitive background noise, for example, as opposed to the frequencies involved in speech when you’re talking in a crowded space.

    This dampening effect might not need to be as fast and adaptable as, say, the transmission of sound information. Frequency information is assembled into coherant ‘sounds’ in the cortex and the ability to quickly react to threatening sounds (by increasing transmission rate with myelin) in the environment probably would have been a survival advantage.

  4. #4 daedalus2u
    May 21, 2007

    There is also what is known as stochastic resonance.

    Where noise increases the sensitivity of a detector (but you need a lot of signal processing to subtract the noise.

    There might also be a need to provide a test signal during development to allow the downstream neural network to develop the right signal processing capabilities.

  5. #5 Aaron
    May 21, 2007

    Thanks Shelley.

    btw – nice mugs 🙂

  6. #6 romunov
    July 6, 2007

    The first mug looks like it has teenage mutant ninja sperm on it.

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