Could spatial heterogeneity in human vocal fold elastic properties improve the quality of phonation?

Jordan E. Kelleher, Thomas Siegmund, Roger W. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The physical mechanisms leading to the acoustic and perceptual qualities of voice are not well understood. This study examines the spatial distribution of biomechanical properties in human vocal folds and explores the consequences of these properties on phonation. Vocal fold lamina propria specimens isolated from nine excised human male larynges were tested in uniaxial tension (six from non-smokers, three from smokers). An optical method was employed to determine the local stretch, from which the elastic modulus of three segments in the anterior-posterior direction was calculated. Several specimens exhibited a significant heterogeneity in the modulus with the middle segment stiffer than the other segments. It was concluded that such modulus gradients are stronger in specimens from non-smokers than smokers. To understand the functional implications of a modulus gradient, the first eigenmode of vibration was calculated with a finite element model. With a modulus gradient, the vocal fold's eigenmode deflection was spread along the anterior-posterior length, whereas for a homogeneous modulus distribution, the deflection was more focused around the mid-coronal plane. Consequently, the strong modulus gradient may enable more complete glottal closure, which is important for normal phonation, while a more homogeneous modulus may be responsible for poor glottal closure and a perceived "breathy" voice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2708-2718
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of biomedical engineering
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


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