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J Acoust Soc Am. 2003 Jan;113(1):430-41.

Physiopathological significance of distortion-product otoacoustic emissions at 2f1-f2 produced by high- versus low-level stimuli.

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Laboratory of Sensory Biophysics (EA 2667), School of Medicine, Clermont-Ferrand, France.


Distortion product otoacoustic emissions emitted by the cochlea at 2f1-f2 in response to pairs of pure tones at f1 and f2 (DPOAE) form a class of otoacoustic emissions and as such, are viewed as a reliable tool for screening outer hair cell (OHC) dysfunctions on a pass/fail basis. However, the persistence of residual DPOAEs from impaired cochleae at high stimulus levels has suggested that above 60-70 dB SPL, instead of reflecting "active" cochlear motion, DPOAEs might represent another "passive" modality: they would thus become unsuitable for analyzing cochlear function. The present work reports the consequences on high- vs low-level DPOAEs of three types of cochlear impairments involving OHCs: progressive OHC degeneration of genetic origin in CD1 mice, complete cochlear ischemia in gerbils, and furosemide injection vs ischemia-reperfusion in gerbils. An alternative to the "active-passive" model was used wherein regardless of stimulus level, cubic DPOAEs are produced by N (probably OHC-borne) nonlinear elements driven by input I and modulated by a function F3 of their operating point o; thus, DPOAE proportional to NI3F3(o). When OHCs degenerated, thereby implying a decrease of N, DPOAE levels also decreased regardless of the stimulus level up to 80 dB SPL, in line with the previous formula but at variance with the prediction of the active-passive concept. Instead of affecting N, the other two experiments impaired the efficiency of the cochlear feedback loop as a result of its electrical drive being decreased by strial dysfunction. As it is well accepted that the impaired basilar-membrane motion, although greatly reduced at low levels, tends to catch up with a normal one at higher levels, it was assumed the same was true with I so that DPOAE levels had to be, and indeed were little affected at high levels while plummeting at low levels, without any need for invoking two modalities for DPOAE generation. Finally, comparisons of furosemide vs ischemia effects revealed additional influences on DPOAEs, possibly accounted for by function F3(o). These results lead to the proposal that although high-level DPOAEs are expected to be poor audiometric indicators, they seem well adapted to assessing the functional integrity of nonlinear elements in OHCs, i.e., presumably their mechanoelectrical transduction channels.

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