The biophysical origin of otoacoustic emissions

Jonathan H. Siegel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

6 Scopus citations


While studied extensively since their discovery by Kemp in the late seventies, the cellular basis of the phenomenon of otoacoustic emission remains unknown. Data from experiments in humans, chinchillas and Mongolian gerbils was used to test the hypothesis that otoacoustic emissions originate in the hair cell transduction apparatus. Specifically, a double Boltzmann model of the transducer predicts that emissions generated by a single tone (stimulus frequency otoacoustic emissions - SFOAE) should be measurable at stimulus levels 20 or more dB below neural threshold, but sufficient to modulate the activity of enough transduction channels to produce a macroscopically observable result. On the other hand, for a fixed low-level probe tone that evokes SFOAE, it should only be possible to demonstrate the presence of emission by using a suppressor tone large enough to drive the transducer into its nonlinear range, approximately where the suppressor level reaches neural threshold. This result should be independent of suppressor frequency. Both predictions were confirmed experimentally in all three species. The threshold suppressor level was consistently near the threshold of the compound neural response monitored with an extracochlear electrode, even for suppressors more than an octave higher than the frequency of a low-level (30 dB SPL) probe tone. Cochlear microphonic responses were always detected at the lowest levels demonstrating SFOAE. The hair cell transducer appears to be the site of interaction between the probe and suppressor tones for all suppressor frequencies, consistent with a single suppression mechanism. Nonlinear interactions demonstrated in SFOAE and CM between widely separated tones do not appear to have a correlate in the basilar membrane, suggesting that, at least under some conditions, pressure waves can be initiated directly from forces produced by the hair bundle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAuditory Mechanisms
Subtitle of host publicationProcesses and Models - Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium
EditorsAlfred L. Nuttall, Tianying Ren, Peter Gillespie, Karl Grosh, Egbert de Boer
PublisherWorld Scientific Publishing Co. Pte Ltd
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9812568247, 9789812568243
StatePublished - 2005
Event9th International Mechanics of Hearing Workshop on Auditory Mechanisms: Processes and Models, MoH 2005 - Portland, United States
Duration: Jul 23 2005Jul 28 2005

Publication series

NameAuditory Mechanisms: Processes and Models - Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium


Conference9th International Mechanics of Hearing Workshop on Auditory Mechanisms: Processes and Models, MoH 2005
Country/TerritoryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering


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