Backward Propagation of Otoacoustic Emissions

He Wenxuan, Ren Tianying

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Normal mammalian ears not only detect but also generate sounds. The ear-generated sounds, i.e., otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), can be measured in the external ear canal using a tiny sensitive microphone. In spite of wide applications of OAEs in diagnosis of hearing disorders and in studies of cochlear functions, the question of how the cochlea emits sounds remains unclear. The current dominating theory is that the OAE reaches the cochlear base through a backward traveling wave. However, recently published works, including experimental data on the spatial pattern of basilar membrane vibrations at the emission frequency, demonstrated only forward traveling waves and no signs of backward traveling waves. These new findings indicate that the cochlea emits sounds through cochlear fluids as compression waves rather than through the basilar membrane as backward traveling waves. This article reviews different mechanisms of the backward propagation of OAEs and summarizes recent experimental results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-44
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Otology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • basilar membrane vibration
  • cochlea
  • cochlear traveling wave
  • otoacoustic emissions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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