Changes in cochlear mechanics during vocalization: evidence for a phasic medial efferent effect

Hear Res. 1998 Aug;122(1-2):71-81. doi: 10.1016/s0378-5955(98)00078-1.


The mustached bat, Pteronotus p. parnellii, has a finely tuned cochlea that rings at its resonant frequency in response to an acoustic tone pip. The decay time (DT) and frequency of these damped oscillations can be measured from the cochlear microphonic potential (CM) to study changes in cochlear mechanics. In this report, we describe phasic changes that occur in synchrony with communication sound vocalizations of the bat. Three animals with chronically implanted electrodes were studied. During the experiments, 1-2 ms tone pips were emitted from a speaker every 200 ms. This triggered a computer analysis of the resulting CM to determine the DT and cochlear resonance frequency (CRF) of the ringing. The time relative to vocalizations was determined by monitoring the output of a microphone placed near a bat's mouth. Similar results were obtained from all three bats tested. In a representative case, the average DT was 2.33 +/- 0.25 ms while the bat was quiet, but it decreased by 46% to 1.26 +/- 0.75 during vocalizations, which indicates a greater damping of the cochlear partition. Sometimes, DT started decreasing immediately before the bat vocalized. After the end of a vocalization, the return to baseline values varied from rapid (milliseconds) to gradual (1-2 seconds). The CRF also changed from baseline values during vocalization, although the amount and direction of change were not predictable. When gentamicin was administered to block the action of medial olivocochlear (MOC) efferents, DT reduction was still evident during vocalization but less pronounced. We conclude that phasic changes in damping occur in synchrony with vocalization, and that the MOC system plays a role in causing suppression. Since suppression can begin prior to vocalization, this may be a synkinetic effect, mediated by neural outflow to the ear in synchrony with neural outflow to the middle ear muscles and the muscles used for vocalization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Chiroptera
  • Cochlea / drug effects
  • Cochlea / innervation
  • Cochlea / physiology*
  • Cochlear Implants
  • Cochlear Microphonic Potentials / drug effects
  • Cochlear Microphonic Potentials / physiology*
  • Gentamicins
  • Neurons, Efferent / drug effects
  • Neurons, Efferent / physiology*
  • Software
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Gentamicins