Date: 10 Jul 2003

Otoacoustic Emissions from Residual Oscillations of the Cochlear Basilar Membrane in a Human Ear Model


Sounds originating from within the inner ear, known as otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), are widely exploited in clinical practice but the mechanisms underlying their generation are not entirely clear. Here we present simulation results and theoretical considerations based on a hydrodynamic model of the human inner ear. Simulations show that, if the cochlear amplifier (CA) gain is a smooth function of position within the active cochlea, filtering performed by a middle ear with an irregular, i.e., nonsmooth, forward transfer function suffices to produce irregular and long-lasting residual oscillations of cochlear basilar membrane (BM) at selected frequencies. Feeding back to the middle ear through hydrodynamic coupling afforded by the cochlear fluid, these oscillations are detected as transient evoked OAEs in the ear canal. If, in addition, the CA gain profile is affected by irregularities, residual BM oscillations are even more irregular and tend to evolve towards self-sustaining oscillations at the loci of gain irregularities. Correspondingly, the spectrum of transient evoked OAEs exhibits sharp peaks. If both the CA gain and the middle-ear forward transfer function are smooth, residual BM oscillations have regular waveforms and extinguish rapidly. In this case no emissions are produced. Finally, and paradoxically albeit consistent with observations, simulating localized damage to the CA results in self-sustaining BM oscillations at the characteristic frequencies (CFs) of the sites adjacent to the damage region, accompanied by generation of spontaneous OAEs. Under these conditions, stimulus-frequency OAEs, with typical modulation patterns, are also observed for inputs near hearing threshold. This approach can be exploited to provide novel diagnostic tools and a better understanding of key phenomena relevant for hearing science.