Effect of contralateral auditory stimuli on active cochlear micro-mechanical properties in human subjects

Hear Res. 1990 Jan;43(2-3):251-61. doi: 10.1016/0378-5955(90)90232-e.


The present study investigates the possibility that contralateral auditory stimulation along medial efferent system pathways may alter active cochlear micromechanics and hence affect evoked oto-acoustic emissions in humans. A first experiment, involving 21 healthy subjects showed reduction of oto-acoustic emission amplitude under low intensity contralateral white noise (from 30 dB SPL, 10 dB SL, upwards). The effect is found for intensities below the acoustic reflex threshold (85.2 dB HL). A second experiment, involving 10 of the above 21 subjects, sought to rule out any technical artefact. Recording was again carried out, but after sealing of the contralateral ear with a silicon putty plug. No contralateral intensity effect on oto-acoustic emission amplitude was found for contralateral intensities below 65 dB SPL. In subjective perception terms (dB SL) an effect was found under sealing when the sound reached or passed above the 10 dB SL level. These two findings confirm the preceding experiment. The third experiment investigated the role of transcranial transmission of the contralateral auditory stimulus. 16 subjects having total unilateral deafness and one healthy ear were tested by the same procedure as above. No fall-off in oto-acoustic emission amplitude was found for contralateral stimuli equal to or less than 80 dB SPL. There is thus a contralateral auditory stimulus effect on active cochlear micromechanics. The most appropriate explanation involves the medial cochlear efferent system, excited at brainstem level via the afferent auditory pathways. Alteration of active cochlear micromechanics seems promising at a basic level, pointing, as it does, to an interactive cochlear functioning which can be investigated by simple, non-intrusive, objective techniques which can be used with human subjects. We have here a model for functional exploration of the medial olivocochlear efferent system.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Child
  • Cochlea / physiology*
  • Cochlea / physiopathology
  • Deafness / physiopathology
  • Ear Canal / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged