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Otoacoustic emissions without somatic motility: Can stereocilia mechanics drive the mammalian cochlea?

  • M. C. Liberman
  • Jian Zuo
  • J. J. Guinan
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2004
  • Biology
  • Musicology
  • Physics


Distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) evoked by low-level tones are a sensitive indicator of outer hair cell (OHC) function. High-level DPOAEs are less vulnerable to cochlear insult, and their dependence on the OHC function is more controversial. Here, the mechanism underlying high-level DPOAE generation is addressed using a mutant mouse line lacking prestin, the molecular motor driving OHC somatic motility, required for cochlear amplification. With prestin deletion, attenuated DPOAEs were measurable at high sound levels. DPOAE thresholds were shifted by ∼50 dB, matching the loss of cochlear amplifier gain measured in compound action potentials. In contrast, at high sound levels, distortion products in the cochlear microphonic (CM) of mutants were not decreased re wildtypes (expressed re CM at the primaries). Distortion products in both CM and otoacoustic emissions disappeared rapidly after death. The results show that OHC somatic motility is not necessary for the production of DPOAEs at high SPLs. They also suggest that the small, physiologically vulnerable DPOAE that remains without prestin-based motility is due directly to the mechanical nonlinearity associated with stereociliary transduction, and that this stereocilia mechanical nonlinearity is robustly coupled to the motion of the cochlear partition to the extent that it can drive the middle ear.

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