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The middle ear allows animals to hear while moving in an aerial medium. It is composed of a cavity harbouring a chain of three ossicles that transmit vibrations produced by airborne sound in the tympanic membrane into the inner ear, where they are converted into neural impulses. The middle ear develops in the branchial arches, and this requires sequential interactions between the epithelia and the underlying mesenchyme. Gene-inactivation experiments have identified genes required for the formation of different middle ear components. Some encode for signalling molecules, including Endothelin1 and Fgf8, probable mediators of epithelial–mesenchymal interactions. Other genes, including Eya1, Prx1, Hoxa1, Hoxa2, Dlx1, Dlx2, Dlx5, and Gsc, are most likely involved in patterning and morphogenetic processes in the neural crest-derived mesenchyme. Mechanisms controlling formation of a functional tympanic membrane are also discussed. Basically, the tympanic ring, which serves as support for the tympanic membrane, directs invagination of the first pharingeal cleft ectoderm to form the external acoustic meatus (EAM), which provides the outer layer of the membrane. Gsc and Prx1 are essential for tympanic ring development. While invaginating, the EAM controls skeletogenesis in the underlying mesenchyme to form the manubrium of the malleus, the link between the membrane and the middle ear ossicles.