Electromotile hearing: evidence from basilar membrane motion and otoacoustic emissions

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Electrical stimulation of the cochlea is known to cause auditory sensations in humans and other animals. It also has been shown to produce emissions of sound from the inner ear. In the current study we investigate the relationship between electrically induced motion of the basilar membrane (BM) and the production of otoacoustic emissions. We test the hypothesis that electrical current-induced movements of the outer hair cell (OHC electromotility) result in intracochlear acoustic pressure which causes traveling waves on the BM. Our results demonstrate that the dominant response of the guinea pig inner ear to electric stimulation, at the round window membrane (RW) or across the cochlear duct, is a mechanical response of the organ of Corti. We observed that electrical stimulation of the cochlea produced traveling wave activity on the BM, measured with a laser Doppler velocimeter. The BM motion was accompanied by sound emitted by the cochlea for frequencies up to at least 25 kHz. Furthermore, bipolar rectangular current stimulation produced steady, bipolar displacements of the BM (to 2 nm), indicating functional elongation or contraction of OHCs occurs depending on the polarity of the current pulse. All of the evoked responses were absent after drug treatments eliminated the OHCs. Our data indicate that OHCs undergo electrically evoked displacements capable of producing high-fidelity, high-frequency acoustic energy. The electrically evoked intracochlear energy results in conventional traveling waves within the cochlea, as well as emissions of sound from the cochlea. These data provide direct support for a mechanism of cochlear sensitivity and tuning involving high-frequency OHC electromotility. Moreover, the data also indicate that any intra- or extracochlear electric current which affects the electric polarization of OHCs could induce BM traveling waves and cause 'electromotile hearing'. This form of hearing would be one component under the more general definition of the electrophonic effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-177
Number of pages8
JournalHearing Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Basilar membrane vibration
  • Cochlear electric stimulation
  • Electrophonic hearing
  • Guinea pig
  • Laser Doppler velocimeter
  • Outer hair cell electromotility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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