Robert Fettiplace is a physiologist recognized for his work on the mechanisms of transduction and frequency selectivity in cochlear hair cells of the vertebrate inner ear. He is known particularly for discovering the phenomenon of electrical tuning whereby hair cells have different electrical properties for extracting disparate sound frequencies, and showing the tuning frequency is dictated by each hair cell’s complement of membrane potassium channels. He is also known for the electrical and molecular characterization of the hair cell’s mechanically sensitive ion channel, which converts sound-induced motion into electrical signals. Fettiplace was born in Nottingham, England, and graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in medicine in 1968 and a Ph.D. in physiology in 1974. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, held a Royal Society Research Fellowship in Cambridge from 1980 and joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990. In 2018, Fettiplace was a joint awardee of the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of London and a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Research in Robert Fettiplace's laboratory has been concerned with the biophysics of auditory hair cells, the sensory receptors of the inner ear, studied with patch clamp recording, micromechanical stimulation, and optical imaging. This research has provided descriptions of the mechanism of sound transduction, the mechanical properties of hair cells, the membrane ion channels involved in selectivity for different acoustic frequencies, and the regulatory roles of intracellular calcium and calcium-binding proteins. His early research was performed on turtle auditory hair cells, but for the last 20 years, he has studied hair cell mechanotransduction in isolated cochleae of rats, mice and gerbils. Defects in transduction lead to hair cell degeneration and irreversible deafness. He has also used real time confocal imaging to document calcium changes in the hair cell soma or stereociliary bundle, culminating in defining the site of calcium entry via mechano-electrical transducer channels at the tips of all but the tallest stereocilia. Over the last ten years he has focused on the mouse cochlea to understand the properties, tonotopic variation and molecular identity of the mechanotransducer channel, using a number of mouse mutants.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 23: Physiology and Pharmacology

Secondary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience