Long-term sound conditioning enhances cochlear sensitivity

J Neurophysiol. 1999 Aug;82(2):863-73. doi: 10.1152/jn.1999.82.2.863.


Sound conditioning, by chronic exposure to moderate-level sound, can protect the inner ear (reduce threshold shifts and hair cell damage) from subsequent high-level sound exposure. To investigate the mechanisms underlying this protective effect, the present study focuses on the physiological changes brought on by the conditioning exposure itself. In our guinea-pig model, 6-h daily conditioning exposure to an octave-band noise at 85 dB SPL reduces the permanent threshold shifts (PTSs) from a subsequent 4-h traumatic exposure to the same noise band at 109 dB SPL, as assessed by both compound action potentials (CAPs) and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs). The frequency region of maximum threshold protection is approximately one-half octave above the upper frequency cutoff of the exposure band. Protection is also evident in the magnitude of suprathreshold CAPs and DPOAEs, where effects are more robust and extend to higher frequencies than those evident at or near threshold. The conditioning exposure also enhanced cochlear sensitivity, when evaluated at the same postconditioning time at which the traumatic exposure would be delivered in a protection study. Response enhancements were seen in both threshold and suprathreshold CAPs and DPOAEs. The frequency dependence of the enhancement effects differed, however, by these two metrics. For CAPs, effects were maximum in the same frequency region as those most protected by the conditioning. For DPOAEs, enhancements were shifted to lower frequencies. The conditioning exposure also enhanced both ipsilaterally and contralaterally evoked olivocochlear (OC) reflex strength, as assessed using DPOAEs. The frequency and level dependence of the reflex enhancements were consistent with changes seen in sound-evoked discharge rates in OC fibers after conditioning. However, comparison with the frequency range and magnitude of conditioning-related protection suggests that the protection cannot be completely explained by amplification of the OC reflex and the known protective effects of OC feedback. Rather, the present results suggest that sound conditioning leads to changes in the physiology of the outer hair cells themselves, the peripheral targets of the OC reflex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cochlea / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Male
  • Olivary Nucleus / physiology
  • Otoacoustic Emissions, Spontaneous / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Wounds and Injuries / physiopathology