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Researchers discover primary role of the olivocochlear efferent system
Date:3/29/2013

hard to conceive that some vertebrates, thousands of years ago, were submitted to stimuli similar to those delivered by speakers. So many researchers believed that the protective effects of the efferent system were an epiphenomenon not its true function."

Instead of using loud noise exposures evoking a change in hearing threshold, we used a moderate noise exposure at a level similar to those found in restaurants, conferences, malls, and also in nature (some frogs emit vocalizations at similar or higher levels) and instead of looking at thresholds, we looked for signs of cochlear neuropathy, Dr. Maison continued.

The researchers demonstrated that such moderate exposure lead to cochlear neuropathy (loss of auditory nerve fibers), which causes difficulty to hear in noisy environments.

"This is tremendously important because all of us are submitted to such acoustic environments and it takes a lot of auditory nerve fiber loss before it gets to be detected by simply measuring thresholds as it's done when preforming an audiogram," Dr. Maison said. "The second important discovery is that, in mice where the efferent system has been surgically removed, cochlear neuropathy is tremendously exacerbated. That second piece proves that the efferent system does play a very important role in protecting the ear from cochlear neuropathy and we may have found its main function."

The researchers say they are excited about this discovery because the strength of the efferent system can be recorded non-invasively in humans and a non-invasive assay to record the efferent system strength has already been developed and shows that one is able to predict vulnerability to acoustic injury (Maison and Liberman, Predicting vulnerability to acoustic injury with a noninvasive assay of olivocochlear reflex strength, Journal of Neuroscience, 20:4701-4707, 2000).

"One could envision applying this assay or a modified version of it to human populat
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Contact: Mary Leach
Mary_Leach@meei.harvard.edu
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
Source:Eurekalert

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