The human inner ear has an intricate spiral shape often compared to shells of mollusks, particularly to the nautilus shell. It has inspired many functional hearing theories. The reasons for this complex geometry remain unresolved. We digitized 138 human cochleae at microscopic resolution and observed an astonishing interindividual variability in the shape. A 3D analytical cochlear model was developed that fits the analyzed data with high precision. The cochlear geometry neither matched a proposed function, namely sound focusing similar to a whispering gallery, nor did it have the form of a nautilus. Instead, the innate cochlear blueprint and its actual ontogenetic variants were determined by spatial constraints and resulted from an efficient packing of the cochlear duct within the petrous bone. The analytical model predicts well the individual 3D cochlear geometry from few clinical measures and represents a clinical tool for an individualized approach to neurosensory restoration with cochlear implants.
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A correction exists for this article and has been incorporated into the published article. It can also be found in Scientific Reports (2018) 8:7020 at doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-25325-8