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J Neurophysiol. 2009 Mar;101(3):1394-406. doi: 10.1152/jn.90925.2008. Epub 2008 Dec 31.

Reflex control of the human inner ear: a half-octave offset in medial efferent feedback that is consistent with an efferent role in the control of masking.

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Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


The high sensitivity and frequency selectivity of the mammalian cochlea is due to amplification produced by outer hair cells (OHCs) and controlled by medial olivocochlear (MOC) efferents. Data from animals led to the view that MOC fibers provide frequency-specific inhibitory feedback; however, these studies did not measure intact MOC reflexes. To test whether MOC inhibition is primarily at the frequency that elicits the MOC activity, acoustically elicited MOC effects were quantified in humans by the change in otoacoustic emissions produced by 60-dB SPL tone and half-octave-band noise elicitors at different frequencies relative to a 40-dB SPL, 1-kHz probe tone. On average, all elicitors produced MOC effects that were skewed (elicitor frequencies -1 octave below the probe produced larger effects than those -1 octave above). The largest MOC effects were from elicitors below the probe frequency for contra- and bilateral elicitors but were from elicitors centered at the probe frequency for ipsilateral elicitors. Typically, ipsilateral elicitors produced larger effects than contralateral elicitors and bilateral elicitors produced effects near the ipsi+contra sum. Elicitors at levels down to 30-dB SPL produced similar patterns. Tuning curves (TCs) interpolated from these data were V-shaped with Q10s approximately 2. These are sharper than MOC-fiber TCs found near 1 kHz in cats and guinea pigs. Because cochlear amplification is skewed (more below the best frequency of a cochlear region), these data are consistent with an anti-masking role of MOC efferents that reduces masking by reducing the cochlear amplification seen at 1 kHz.

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