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Hear Res. 1996 Aug;97(1-2):102-19.

Additional findings on heritability and prenatal masculinization of cochlear mechanisms: click-evoked otoacoustic emissions.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin 78712, USA.


A previous demonstration of a substantial genetic contribution to the expression of spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOAEs) is here extended to an aspect of click-evoked otoacoustic emissions (CEOAEs). CEOAEs were measured in the same twins and non-twins used for the SOAE heritability study. The stimuli were 100-microsecond clicks presented a nominal rate of 2/s; the emitted waveforms from 50 clicks were summed, and a 20-ms sample of that averaged waveform (beginning 6 ms after click presentation) was subjected to spectral analysis. The total power in the spectrum from 1 to 5 kHz in this temporal segment of the CEOAE waveform was used as the primary dependent variable. This overall power was significantly greater in female and right ears than in male and left ears, but the difference between dark- and light-eyed subjects was not significant. The overall power in the two left, and two right, ears of monozygotic co-twins was more highly correlated than in dizygotic co-twins, and structural modeling indicated that about 65-85% of the individual variation in the expression of CEOAE power could be attributed to genes-essentially the same heritability estimate as obtained previously from the SOAE data. Within-subject correlations between CEOAE power and number of SOAEs ranged from about 0.3 to 0.7, suggesting that these two forms of otoacoustic emission may depend upon somewhat different aspects of the same underlying mechanism and, thus, that heritability estimates based on one measure are not completely redundant to those from the other. While the average spectral power of the CEOAEs in opposite-sex dizygotic (OSDZ) females was smaller than that in same-sex dizygotic (SSDZ) females- and thus approached the value for males-the difference did not achieve statistical significance. Thus, the evidence for a prenatal masculinizing effect was less definitive in these CEOAE data than in the SOAE data obtained from the same subjects. An interpretation that accounts for both the CEOAE and SOAE results is that the strength of the so-called cochlear amplifiers is under genetic control that is to some extent mediated and/or modified through prenatal exposure to androgens. The indicated direction of effect is that weak cochlear amplifiers result when prenatal androgen levels are high. Under this view, then, androgen level contribute both to the sex differences observed in otoacoustic emissions and the prenatal masculinizing effects observed in opposite-sex twins, and they may be a factor in individual differences in OAE expression as well. Additionally it is shown that, although the powers of the CEOAE waveforms were reasonably highly correlated for the two ears of subjects in all groups, and across MZ co-twins, cross-correlations on the fine structures of those same pairs of CEOAE waveforms were essentially zero-presumably owing largely to the synchronizing of (different) SOAE frequencies in the ears being compared.

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