Send to

Choose Destination
Trends Amplif. 2010 Sep;14(3):170-91. doi: 10.1177/1084713810381771. Epub 2010 Sep 23.

Auditory brainstem circuits that mediate the middle ear muscle reflex.

Author information

Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


The middle ear muscle (MEM) reflex is one of two major descending systems to the auditory periphery. There are two middle ear muscles (MEMs): the stapedius and the tensor tympani. In man, the stapedius contracts in response to intense low frequency acoustic stimuli, exerting forces perpendicular to the stapes superstructure, increasing middle ear impedance and attenuating the intensity of sound energy reaching the inner ear (cochlea). The tensor tympani is believed to contract in response to self-generated noise (chewing, swallowing) and non-auditory stimuli. The MEM reflex pathways begin with sound presented to the ear. Transduction of sound occurs in the cochlea, resulting in an action potential that is transmitted along the auditory nerve to the cochlear nucleus in the brainstem (the first relay station for all ascending sound information originating in the ear). Unknown interneurons in the ventral cochlear nucleus project either directly or indirectly to MEM motoneurons located elsewhere in the brainstem. Motoneurons provide efferent innervation to the MEMs. Although the ascending and descending limbs of these reflex pathways have been well characterized, the identity of the reflex interneurons is not known, as are the source of modulatory inputs to these pathways. The aim of this article is to (a) provide an overview of MEM reflex anatomy and physiology, (b) present new data on MEM reflex anatomy and physiology from our laboratory and others, and (c) describe the clinical implications of our research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center