Send to

Choose Destination
Physiol Rev. 2013 Oct;93(4):1563-619. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00029.2012.

Auditory distortions: origins and functions.

Erratum in

  • Physiol Rev. 2014 Jan;94(1):327.


To enhance weak sounds while compressing the dynamic intensity range, auditory sensory cells amplify sound-induced vibrations in a nonlinear, intensity-dependent manner. In the course of this process, instantaneous waveform distortion is produced, with two conspicuous kinds of interwoven consequences, the introduction of new sound frequencies absent from the original stimuli, which are audible and detectable in the ear canal as otoacoustic emissions, and the possibility for an interfering sound to suppress the response to a probe tone, thereby enhancing contrast among frequency components. We review how the diverse manifestations of auditory nonlinearity originate in the gating principle of their mechanoelectrical transduction channels; how they depend on the coordinated opening of these ion channels ensured by connecting elements; and their links to the dynamic behavior of auditory sensory cells. This paper also reviews how the complex properties of waves traveling through the cochlea shape the manifestations of auditory nonlinearity. Examination methods based on the detection of distortions open noninvasive windows on the modes of activity of mechanosensitive structures in auditory sensory cells and on the distribution of sites of nonlinearity along the cochlear tonotopic axis, helpful for deciphering cochlear molecular physiology in hearing-impaired animal models. Otoacoustic emissions enable fast tests of peripheral sound processing in patients. The study of auditory distortions also contributes to the understanding of the perception of complex sounds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center