Cochlear function depends on the operation of a coupled feedback loop, incorporating outer hair cells (OHCs), and structured to assure that inner hair cells (IHCs) convey frequency specific acoustic information to the brain, even at very low sound levels. Although our knowledge of OHC function and its contribution to cochlear amplification has expanded, the importance of the tectorial membrane (TM) to the processing of mechanical inputs has not been fully elucidated. In addition, there are a surprising number of genetic mutations that affect TM structure and that produce hearing loss in humans. By synthesizing old and new results obtained on several mouse mutants, we learned that animals with abnormal TMs are prone to generate spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOAE), which are uncommon in most wildtype laboratory animals. Because SOAEs are not produced in TM mutants or in humans when threshold shifts exceed approximately 25 dB, some degree of cochlear amplification is required. However, amplification by itself is not sufficient because normal mice are rarely spontaneous emitters. Since SOAEs reflect active cochlear operation, TM mutants are valuable for studying the oscillatory nature of the amplification process and the structures associated with its stabilization. Inasmuch as the mouse models were selected to mirror human auditory disorders, using SOAEs as a noninvasive clinical tool may assist the classification of individuals with genetic defects that influence the active mechanisms responsible for sensitivity and frequency selectivity, the hallmarks of mammalian hearing.
- Spontaneous otoacoustic emissions
- Tectorial membrane
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sensory Systems