Contralateral Efferent Reflex Effects on Threshold and Suprathreshold Psychoacoustical Tuning Curves at Low and High Frequencies
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Medial olivocochlear efferent neurons can control cochlear frequency selectivity and may be activated in a reflexive manner by contralateral sounds. The present study investigated the significance of the contralateral medial olivocochlear reflex (MOCR) on human psychoacoustical tuning curves (PTCs), a behavioral correlate of cochlear tuning curves. PTCs were measured using forward masking in the presence and in the absence of a contralateral white noise, assumed to elicit the MOCR. To assess MOCR effects on apical and basal cochlear regions over a wide range of sound levels, PTCs were measured for probe frequencies of 500 Hz and 4 kHz and for near- and suprathreshold conditions. Results show that the contralateral noise affected the PTCs predominantly at 500 Hz. At near-threshold levels, its effect was obvious only for frequencies in the tails of the PTCs; at suprathreshold levels, its effects were obvious for all frequencies. It was verified that the effects were not due to the contralateral noise activating the middle-ear muscle reflex or changing the postmechanical rate of recovery from forward masking. A phenomenological computer model of forward masking with efferent control was used to explain the data. The model supports the hypothesis that the behavioral results were due to the contralateral noise reducing apical cochlear gain in a frequency- and level-dependent manner consistent with physiological evidence. Altogether, this shows that the contralateral MOCR may be changing apical cochlear responses in natural, binaural listening situations.
Keywordsmedial olivocochlear reflex efferent control frequency selectivity forward masking cochlear model cochlear nonlinearity
We are most grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and to Peter T. Johannesen for technical assistance with the middle-ear muscle reflex measurements. Work supported by a grant of the Spanish MICINN (BFU2009-07909) to ELP and a predoctoral studentship of the Chilean CONICYT to EA.
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