Two-tone suppression in the basilar membrane of the cochlea: Mechanical basis of auditory-nerve rate suppression

M. A. Ruggero*, L. Robles, N. C. Rich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

210 Scopus citations


1. The vibratory response to two-tone stimuli was measured in the basilar membrane of the chinchilla cochlea by means of the Mossbauer technique or laser velocimetry. Measurements were made at sites with characteristic frequency (CF, the frequency at which an auditory structure is most sensitive) of 7-10 kHz, located ~3.5 mm from the oval window. 2. Two-tone suppression (reduction in the response to one tone due to the presence of another) was demonstrated for CF probe tones and suppressor tones with frequencies both higher and lower than CF, at moderately low stimulus levels, including probe-suppressor combinations for which responses to the suppressor were lower than responses to the probe tone alone. 3. For a fixed suppressor tone, suppression magnitude decreased as a function of increasing probe intensity. 4. The magnitude of suppression increased monotonically with suppressor intensity. 5. The rate of growth of suppression magnitude with suppressor intensity was higher for suppressors in the region below CF than for those in the region above CF. 6. For low-frequency suppressor tones, suppression magnitude varied periodically, attaining one or two maxima within each period of the suppressor tone. 7. Suppression was frequency tuned: for either above-CF or below-CF suppressor tones, suppression magnitude reached a maximum for probe frequencies near CF. 8. Cochlear damage or death diminished or abolished suppression. There was a clear positive correlation between magnitude of suppression and basilar-membrane sensitivity for responses to CF tones. 9. Suppression tended to be accompanied by small phase lags in responses to CF probe tones. 10. Because all of the features of two-tone suppression at the basilar membrane match qualitatively (and, generally, also quantitatively) the features of two-tone rate suppression in auditory-nerve fibers, it is concluded that neural two-tone rate suppression originates in mechanical phenomena at the basilar membrane. 11. Because the lability of mechanical suppression parallels the loss of sensitivity and frequency tuning due to outer hair cell dysfunction, the present findings suggest that mechanical two-tone suppression arises from an interaction between the outer hair cells and the basilar membrane.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1087-1099
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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