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Ear Hear. 2006 Dec;27(6):589-607.

Olivocochlear efferents: anatomy, physiology, function, and the measurement of efferent effects in humans.

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Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Erratum in

  • Ear Hear. 2007 Feb;28(1):129.


This review covers the basic anatomy and physiology of the olivocochlear reflexes and the use of otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) in humans to monitor the effects of one group, the medial olivocochlear (MOC) efferents. MOC fibers synapse on outer hair cells (OHCs), and activation of these fibers inhibits basilar membrane responses to low-level sounds. This MOC-induced decrease in the gain of the cochlear amplifier is reflected in changes in OAEs. Any OAE can be used to monitor MOC effects on the cochlear amplifier. Each OAE type has its own advantages and disadvantages. The most straightforward technique for monitoring MOC effects is to elicit MOC activity with an elicitor sound contralateral to the OAE test ear. MOC effects can also be monitored using an ipsilateral elicitor of MOC activity, but the ipsilateral elicitor brings additional problems caused by suppression and cochlear slow intrinsic effects. To measure MOC effects accurately, one must ensure that there are no middle-ear-muscle contractions. Although standard clinical middle-ear-muscle tests are not adequate for this, adequate tests can usually be done with OAE-measuring instruments. An additional complication is that most probe sounds also elicit MOC activity, although this does not prevent the probe from showing MOC effects elicited by contralateral sound. A variety of data indicate that MOC efferents help to reduce acoustic trauma and lessen the masking of transients by background noise; for instance, they aid in speech comprehension in noise. However, much remains to be learned about the role of efferents in auditory function. Monitoring MOC effects in humans using OAEs should continue to provide valuable insights into the role of MOC efferents and may also provide clinical benefits.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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