Basilar membrane responses to pairs of tones were measured, with the use of a laser velocimeter, in the basal turn of the cochlea in anesthetized chinchillas. Frequency spectra of basilar membrane responses to primary tones with frequencies (f1, f2) close to the characteristic frequency (CF) contain prominent odd-order two-tone distortion products (DPs) at frequencies both higher and lower than CF (such as 2f1 - f2, 3f1 - 2f2, 2f2 - f1 and 3f2 - 2f1). For equal-level primaries with frequencies such that 2f1 - f2 equals CF, the magnitude of the 2f1 - f2 DP grows with primary level at linear or faster rates at low stimulus levels, but it saturates or decreases slightly at higher levels. For a fixed level of one of the primary tones, the magnitude of the 2f1 - f2 DP is a nonmonotonic function of the level of the other primary tone. For low intensities of the variable tone, the 2f1 - f2 DP grows at a rate of ~2 dB/dB with f1 level and 1 dB/dB with f2 level. DP magnitudes decrease rapidly with increasing primary frequency ratio (f2/f1) at low stimulus levels. For more intense stimuli, DP magnitudes remain constant or decrease slowly over a wide range of frequency ratios until a critical value is reached, at which DP magnitudes fall with slopes as steep as -300 dB/octave. As stimulus level grows, DP phases increasingly lag for large f2/f1 ratios, but exhibit leads for small f2/f1 ratios. Cochlear exposure to an intense tone that produces large sensitivity losses for the primary frequencies (but only small losses for tones with frequency equal to 2f1 - f2) causes a substantial decrease in magnitude of the 2f1 - f2 DP. This result demonstrates that the 2f1 - f2 DP originates at the basilar membrane region with CFs corresponding to the primary frequencies and propagates to the location with CF equal to the DP frequency. 2f1 - f2 DPs on the basilar membrane resemble those measured in human psychophysics in most respects. However, the magnitude of basilar membrane DPs does not show the nonmonotonic dependence on f2/f1 ratio evident in DP otoacoustic emissions.
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