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New findings contradict a prevailing belief about the inner ear
Date:2/12/2008

ANN ARBOR, Mich.--- A healthy ear emits soft sounds in response to the sounds that travel in. Detectable with sensitive microphones, these otoacoustic emissions help doctors test newborns hearing. A deaf ear doesnt produce these echoes.

New research involving the University of Michigan and Oregon Health and Science University shows that, contrary to the current scientific thought, the emissions dont leave the ear the same way they entered. The findings give new insight into a phenomenon that researchers study to better understand hearing loss, and they reinforce a previous controversial study that came to a similar conclusion.

A paper on the research is published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The former wisdom on how otoacoustic emissions left the ear was that there was a backward-traveling wave going along the structure of the cochlea in the same way as the forward-traveling sound wave, said Karl Grosh, a professor in the U-M departments of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering and an author of the paper. These measurements show that is not the case.

Grosh said the next step is to develop tools to find out where hearing damage is occurring. If we want to try to infer from the emission whats wrong with the ear, we have to understand how the emission is produced, Grosh said.

The experiment, performed at the Oregon Health and Science University in associate professor Tianying Rens lab, showed that the sound waves coming out travel through the fluid of the inner ear, rather than rippling along the basilar membrane of the cochlea.

The cochlea, located deep in the ear, is shaped like a snail. The basilar membrane essentially cuts the inner channel of the cochlea diametrically in half into two chambers. Both chambers are filled with liquid.

Sound waves going into the ear undulate along the basilar membrane through the cochlea and eventually exc
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Contact: Nicole Casal Moore
ncmoore@umich.edu
734-647-1838
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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