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Audiol Neurootol. 2013;18(6):353-61. doi: 10.1159/000354160. Epub 2013 Oct 9.

Abnormalities in auditory efferent activities in children with selective mutism.

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Department of Communication Disorders, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Two efferent feedback pathways to the auditory periphery may play a role in monitoring self-vocalization: the middle-ear acoustic reflex (MEAR) and the medial olivocochlear bundle (MOCB) reflex. Since most studies regarding the role of auditory efferent activity during self-vocalization were conducted in animals, human data are scarce. The working premise of the current study was that selective mutism (SM), a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by consistent failure to speak in specific social situations despite the ability to speak normally in other situations, may serve as a human model for studying the potential involvement of auditory efferent activity during self-vocalization. For this purpose, auditory efferent function was assessed in a group of 31 children with SM and compared to that of a group of 31 normally developing control children (mean age 8.9 and 8.8 years, respectively). All children exhibited normal hearing thresholds and type A tympanograms. MEAR and MOCB functions were evaluated by means of acoustic reflex thresholds and decay functions and the suppression of transient-evoked otoacoustic emissions, respectively. Auditory afferent function was tested by means of auditory brainstem responses (ABR). Results indicated a significantly higher proportion of children with abnormal MEAR and MOCB function in the SM group (58.6 and 38%, respectively) compared to controls (9.7 and 8%, respectively). The prevalence of abnormal MEAR and/or MOCB function was significantly higher in the SM group (71%) compared to controls (16%). Intact afferent function manifested in normal absolute and interpeak latencies of ABR components in all children. The finding of aberrant efferent auditory function in a large proportion of children with SM provides further support for the notion that MEAR and MOCB may play a significant role in the process of self-vocalization.

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