- The tectorial membrane (TM) is an extracellular matrix situated over the sensory cells of the cochlea. Its strategic location, together with the results of recent TM-specific mutation studies, suggests that it has an important role in the mechanism by which the cochlea transduces mechanical energy into neural excitation. A detailed characterization of TM mechanical properties is fundamental to understanding its role in cochlear mechanics. In this work, the mechanical properties of the TM are characterized in the radial and longitudinal directions using nano- and microindentation experiments conducted by using atomic force spectroscopy. We find that the stiffness in the main body region and in the spiral limbus attachment zone does not change significantly along the length of the cochlea. The main body of the TM is the softest region, whereas the spiral limbus attachment zone is stiffer, with the two areas having averaged Young's modulus values of 37 ± 3 and 135 ± 14 kPa, respectively. By contrast, we find that the stiffness of the TM in the region above the outer hair cells (OHCs) increases by one order of magnitude in the longitudinal direction, from 24 ± 4 kPa in the apical region to 210 ± 15 kPa at the basilar end of the TM. Scanning electron microscopy analysis shows differences in the collagen fiber arrangements in the OHC zone of the TM that correspond to the observed variations in mechanical properties. The longitudinal increase in TM stiffness is similar to that found for the OHC stereocilia, which supports the existence of mechanical coupling between these two structures.