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1.  Ultrasonic signalling by a Bornean frog 
Biology Letters  2007;4(1):19-22.
Among anuran amphibians, only two species, Odorrana tormota and Huia cavitympanum, are known to possess recessed tympanic membranes. Odorrana tormota is the first non-mammalian vertebrate demonstrated to communicate with ultrasonic frequencies (above 20 kHz), and the frogs' sunken tympana are hypothesized to play a key role in their high-frequency hearing sensitivity. Here we present the first data on the vocalizations of H. cavitympanum. We found that this species emits extraordinarily high-frequency calls, a portion of which are comprised entirely of ultrasound. This represents the first documentation of an anuran species producing purely ultrasonic signals. In addition, the vocal repertoire of H. cavitympanum is highly variable in frequency modulation pattern and spectral composition. The frogs' use of vocal signals with a wide range of dominant frequencies may be a strategy to maximize acoustic energy transmission to both nearby and distant receivers. The convergence of these species' call characteristics should stimulate additional, phylogenetically based studies of other lower vertebrates to provide new insight into the mechanistic and evolutionary foundations of high-frequency hearing in all vertebrate forms.
PMCID: PMC2413264  PMID: 18029296
Odorrana tormota; Huia cavitympanum; ultrasonic communication; ultrasound; convergence
2.  Non-ossicular signal transmission in human middle ears: Experimental assessment of the “acoustic route” with perforated tympanic membranes 
Direct acoustic stimulation of the cochlea by the sound-pressure difference between the oval and round windows (called the “acoustic route”) has been thought to contribute to hearing in some pathological conditions, along with the normally dominant “ossicular route.” To determine the efficacy of this acoustic route and its constituent mechanisms in human ears, sound pressures were measured at three locations in cadaveric temporal bones [with intact and perforated tympanic membranes (TMs)]: (1) in the external ear canal lateral to the TM, PTM; (2) in the tympanic cavity lateral to the oval window, POW; and (3) near the round window, PRW. Sound transmission via the acoustic route is described by two concatenated processes: (1) coupling of sound pressure from ear canal to middle-ear cavity, HPCAV≡PCAV/PTM, where PCAV represents the middle-ear cavity pressure, and (2) sound-pressure difference between the windows, HWPD≡(POW−PRW)/PCAV. Results show that: HPCAV depends on perforation size but not perforation location; HWPD depends on neither perforation size nor location. The results (1) provide a description of the window pressures based on measurements, (2) refute the common otological view that TM perforation location affects the “relative phase of the pressures at the oval and round windows,” and (3) show with an intact ossicular chain that acoustic-route transmission is substantially below ossicular-route transmission except for low frequencies with large perforations. Thus, hearing loss from TM perforations results primarily from reduction in sound coupling via the ossicular route. Some features of the frequency dependence of HPCAV and HWPD can be interpreted in terms of a structure-based lumped-element acoustic model of the perforation and middle-ear cavities.
PMCID: PMC2680256  PMID: 17902851
3.  Hearing in the African lungfish (Protopterus annectens): pre-adaptation to pressure hearing in tetrapods? 
Biology Letters  2010;7(1):139-141.
Lungfishes are the closest living relatives of the tetrapods, and the ear of recent lungfishes resembles the tetrapod ear more than the ear of ray-finned fishes and is therefore of interest for understanding the evolution of hearing in the early tetrapods. The water-to-land transition resulted in major changes in the tetrapod ear associated with the detection of air-borne sound pressure, as evidenced by the late and independent origins of tympanic ears in all of the major tetrapod groups. To investigate lungfish pressure and vibration detection, we measured the sensitivity and frequency responses of five West African lungfish (Protopterus annectens) using brainstem potentials evoked by calibrated sound and vibration stimuli in air and water. We find that the lungfish ear has good low-frequency vibration sensitivity, like recent amphibians, but poor sensitivity to air-borne sound. The skull shows measurable vibrations above 100 Hz when stimulated by air-borne sound, but the ear is apparently insensitive at these frequencies, suggesting that the lungfish ear is neither adapted nor pre-adapted for aerial hearing. Thus, if the lungfish ear is a model of the ear of early tetrapods, their auditory sensitivity was limited to very low frequencies on land, mostly mediated by substrate-borne vibrations.
PMCID: PMC3030901  PMID: 20826468
lungfish; hearing; vibration; tetrapod; sound; evolution
4.  Impedance-Matching Hearing in Paleozoic Reptiles: Evidence of Advanced Sensory Perception at an Early Stage of Amniote Evolution 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(9):e889.
Insights into the onset of evolutionary novelties are key to the understanding of amniote origins and diversification. The possession of an impedance-matching tympanic middle ear is characteristic of all terrestrial vertebrates with a sophisticated hearing sense and an adaptively important feature of many modern terrestrial vertebrates. Whereas tympanic ears seem to have evolved multiple times within tetrapods, especially among crown-group members such as frogs, mammals, squamates, turtles, crocodiles, and birds, the presence of true tympanic ears has never been recorded in a Paleozoic amniote, suggesting they evolved fairly recently in amniote history.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In the present study, we performed a morphological examination and a phylogenetic analysis of poorly known parareptiles from the Middle Permian of the Mezen River Basin in Russia. We recovered a well-supported clade that is characterized by a unique cheek morphology indicative of a tympanum stretching across large parts of the temporal region to an extent not seen in other amniotes, fossil or extant, and a braincase specialized in showing modifications clearly related to an increase in auditory function, unlike the braincase of any other Paleozoic tetrapod. In addition, we estimated the ratio of the tympanum area relative to the stapedial footplate for the basalmost taxon of the clade, which, at 23∶1, is in close correspondence to that of modern amniotes capable of efficient impedance-matching hearing.
Using modern amniotes as analogues, the possession of an impedance-matching middle ear in these parareptiles suggests unique ecological adaptations potentially related to living in dim-light environments. More importantly, our results demonstrate that already at an early stage of amniote diversification, and prior to the Permo-Triassic extinction event, the complexity of terrestrial vertebrate ecosystems had reached a level that proved advanced sensory perception to be of notable adaptive significance.
PMCID: PMC1964539  PMID: 17849018
5.  Experimental measurement of tympanic membrane response for finite element model validation of a human middle ear 
SpringerPlus  2013;2:527.
The middle ear consists of a tympanic membrane, ligaments, tendons, and three ossicles. An important function of the tympanic membrane is to deliver exterior sound stimulus to the ossicles and inner ear. In this study, the responses of the tympanic membrane in a human ear were measured and compared with those of a finite element model of the middle ear. A laser Doppler vibrometer (LDV) was used to measure the dynamic responses of the tympanic membrane, which had the measurement point on the cone of light of the tympanic membrane. The measured subjects were five Korean male adults and a cadaver. The tympanic membranes were stimulated using pure-tone sine waves at 18 center frequencies of one-third octave band over a frequency range of 200 Hz ~10 kHz with 60 and 80 dB sound pressure levels. The measured responses were converted into the umbo displacement transfer function (UDTF) with a linearity assumption. The measured UDTFs were compared with the calculated UDTFs using a finite element model for the Korean human middle ear. The finite element model of the middle ear consists of three ossicles, a tympanic membrane, ligaments, and tendons. In the finite element model, the umbo displacements were calculated under a unit sound pressure on the tympanic membrane. The UDTF of the finite element model exhibited good agreement with that of the experimental one in low frequency range, whereas in higher frequency band, the two response functions deviated from each other, which demonstrates that the finite element model should be updated with more accurate material properties and/or a frequency dependent material model.
PMCID: PMC3806984  PMID: 24171153
Laser doppler vibrometer (LDV); Tympanic membrane; Middle ear; Umbo displacement transfer function (UDTF); Finite element model
6.  Diversity of acoustic tracheal system and its role for directional hearing in crickets 
Frontiers in Zoology  2013;10:61.
Sound localization in small insects can be a challenging task due to physical constraints in deriving sufficiently large interaural intensity differences (IIDs) between both ears. In crickets, sound source localization is achieved by a complex type of pressure difference receiver consisting of four potential sound inputs. Sound acts on the external side of two tympana but additionally reaches the internal tympanal surface via two external sound entrances. Conduction of internal sound is realized by the anatomical arrangement of connecting trachea. A key structure is a trachea coupling both ears which is characterized by an enlarged part in its midline (i.e., the acoustic vesicle) accompanied with a thin membrane (septum). This facilitates directional sensitivity despite an unfavorable relationship between wavelength of sound and body size. Here we studied the morphological differences of the acoustic tracheal system in 40 cricket species (Gryllidae, Mogoplistidae) and species of outgroup taxa (Gryllotalpidae, Rhaphidophoridae, Gryllacrididae) of the suborder Ensifera comprising hearing and non hearing species.
We found a surprisingly high variation of acoustic tracheal systems and almost all investigated species using intraspecific acoustic communication were characterized by an acoustic vesicle associated with a medial septum. The relative size of the acoustic vesicle - a structure most crucial for deriving high IIDs - implies an important role for sound localization. Most remarkable in this respect was the size difference of the acoustic vesicle between species; those with a more unfavorable ratio of body size to sound wavelength tend to exhibit a larger acoustic vesicle. On the other hand, secondary loss of acoustic signaling was nearly exclusively associated with the absence of both acoustic vesicle and septum.
The high diversity of acoustic tracheal morphology observed between species might reflect different steps in the evolution of the pressure difference receiver; with a precursor structure already present in ancestral non-hearing species. In addition, morphological transitions of the acoustic vesicle suggest a possible adaptive role for the generation of binaural directional cues.
PMCID: PMC3852832  PMID: 24131512
Directional hearing; Cricket; Acoustic tracheal system; Sound localization; Interaural intensity difference (IID); Pressure difference receiver
7.  The EarLens System: New Sound Transduction Methods 
Hearing research  2010;263(1-2):104-113.
The hypothesis is tested that an open-canal hearing device, with a microphone in the ear canal, can be designed to provide amplification over a wide bandwidth and without acoustic feedback. In the design under consideration, a transducer consisting of a thin silicone platform with an embedded magnet is placed directly on the tympanic membrane. Sound picked up by a microphone in the ear canal, including sound-localization cues thought to be useful for speech perception in noisy environments, is processed and amplified, and then used to drive a coil near the tympanic-membrane transducer. The perception of sound results from the vibration of the transducer in response the electromagnetic field produced by the coil. Sixteen subjects (ranging from normal-hearing to moderately hearing-impaired) wore this transducer for up to a ten-month period, and were monitored for any adverse reactions. Three key functional characteristics were measured: 1) the maximum equivalent pressure output (MEPO) of the transducer; 2) the feedback gain margin (GM), which describes the maximum allowable gain before feedback occurs; and 3) the tympanic-membrane damping effect (DTM), which describes the change in hearing level due to placement of the transducer on the eardrum. Results indicate that the tympanic-membrane transducer remains in place and is well tolerated. The system can produce sufficient output to reach threshold for those with as much as 60 dBHL of hearing impairment for up to 8 kHz in 86% of the study population, and up to 11.2 kHz in 50% of the population. The feedback gain margin is on average 30 dB except at the ear canal resonance frequencies of 3 and 9 kHz, where the average was reduced to 12 dB and 23 dB respectively. The average value of DTM is close to 0 dB everywhere except in the 2–4 kHz range, where it peaks at 8 dB. A new alternative system that uses photonic energy to transmit both the signal and power to a photodiode and micro-actuator on an EarLens platform is also described.
PMCID: PMC2974567  PMID: 20116419
8.  Time-resolved tympanal mechanics of the locust 
A salient characteristic of most auditory systems is their capacity to analyse the frequency of sound. Little is known about how such analysis is performed across the diversity of auditory systems found in animals, and especially in insects. In locusts, frequency analysis is primarily mechanical, based on vibrational waves travelling across the tympanal membrane. Different acoustic frequencies generate travelling waves that direct vibrations to distinct tympanal locations, where distinct groups of correspondingly tuned mechanosensory neurons attach. Measuring the mechanical tympanal response, for the first time, to acoustic impulses in the time domain, nanometre-range vibrational waves are characterized with high spatial and temporal resolutions. Conventional Fourier analysis is also used to characterize the response in the frequency domain. Altogether these results show that travelling waves originate from a particular tympanal location and travel across the membrane to generate oscillations in the exact region where mechanosensory neurons attach. Notably, travelling waves are unidirectional; no strong back reflection or wave resonance could be observed across the membrane. These results constitute a key step in understanding tympanal mechanics in general, and in insects in particular, but also in our knowledge of the vibrational behaviour of anisotropic media.
PMCID: PMC2607351  PMID: 18522928
tympanal membrane; frequency; place principle; biomechanics; time-resolved laser vibrometry
9.  Tympanal and atympanal 'mouth-ears' in hawkmoths (Sphingidae). 
The labral pilifers and the labial palps form ultrasound-sensitive hearing organs in species of two distantly related hawkmoth subtribes, the Choerocampina and the Acherontiina. Biomechanical examination now reveals that their ears represent different types of hearing organs. In hearing species of both subtribes, the labral pilifer picks up vibrations from specialized sound-receiving structures of the labial palp that are absent in non-hearing species. In Choerocampina, a thin area of cuticle serves as an auditory tympanum, whereas overlapping scales functionally replace a tympanum in Acherontiina that can hear. The tympanum of Choerocampina and the scale-plate of Acherontiina both vibrate maximally in response to ultrasonic, behaviourally relevant sounds, with the vibrations of the tympanum exceeding those of the scale plate by ca. 15 dB. This amplitude difference, however, is not reflected in the vibrations of the pilifers and the neural auditory sensitivity is similar in hearing species of both subtribes. Accordingly, morphologically different - tympanal and atympanal - but functionally equivalent hearing organs evolved independently and in parallel within a single family of moths.
PMCID: PMC1690854  PMID: 11788041
10.  Abnormal cortical sensorimotor activity during “Target” sound detection in subjects with acute acoustic trauma sequelae: an fMRI study 
Brain and Behavior  2012;2(2):187-199.
The most common consequences of acute acoustic trauma (AAT) are hearing loss at frequencies above 3 kHz and tinnitus. In this study, we have used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to visualize neuronal activation patterns in military adults with AAT and various tinnitus sequelae during an auditory “oddball” attention task. AAT subjects displayed overactivities principally during reflex of target sound detection, in sensorimotor areas and in emotion-related areas such as the insula, anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex, in premotor area, in cross-modal sensory associative areas, and, interestingly, in a region of the Rolandic operculum that has recently been shown to be involved in tympanic movements due to air pressure. We propose further investigations of this brain area and fine middle ear investigations, because our results might suggest a model in which AAT tinnitus may arise as a proprioceptive illusion caused by abnormal excitability of middle-ear muscle spindles possibly link with the acoustic reflex and associated with emotional and sensorimotor disturbances.
PMCID: PMC3345361  PMID: 22574285
Acoustic trauma; fMRI; Middle ear; Proprioception; Tinnitus
11.  Investigation of a Novel Completely-In-The-Canal Direct-Drive Hearing Device: A Temporal Bone Study 
Whether a prototype direct-drive hearing device (DHD) is effective in driving the tympanic membrane (TM) in a temporal bone specimen to enable it to potentially treat moderate to severe hearing loss.
Patient satisfaction with air conduction hearing aids has been low due to sound distortion, occlusion effect, and feedback issues. Implantable hearing aids provide a higher quality sound, but require surgery for placement. The DHD was designed to combine the ability of driving the ossicular chain with placement in the external auditory canal.
DHD is a 3.5 mm wide device that could fit entirely into the bony ear canal and directly drive the TM rather than use a speaker. A cadaveric temporal bone was prepared. The device developed in our laboratory was coupled to the external surface of the TM and against the malleus. Frequency sweeps between 300 Hz to 12 kHz were performed in two different coupling methods at 104 and 120 dB, and the DHD was driven with various levels of current. Displacements of the posterior crus of the stapes were measured using a Laser Doppler Vibrometer.
The DHD showed a linear frequency response from 300Hz to 12kHz. Placement against the malleus showed higher amplitudes and lower power requirements than when the device was placed on the TM.
DHD is a small completely-in-the-canal device that mechanically drives the TM. This novel device has a frequency output wider than most air conduction devices. Findings of the current study demonstrated that the DHD had the potential of being incorporated into a hearing aid in the future.
PMCID: PMC3530668  PMID: 23202151
12.  Atropic Tympanic Membrane and Hearing Assessment 
The hearing threshold in atrophic tympanic membrane is assessed in 35 individuals. Assessment of hearing threshold in patients having atrophic tympanic membrane. Prospective clinical study. Tertiary referral centre. Thirty-five patients who had atrophic tympanic membrane in one ear and normal tympanic membrane of the other ear which was used as control, were selected Hearing threshold of patients having atrophic tympanic membrane. Twenty-nine patients with atrophic tympanic membrane had absolutely normal PTA of the ear and the opposite ear with normal tympanic membrane had similar normal PTA. Majority of the patients with atrophic tympanic membrane have normal hearing.
PMCID: PMC3244587  PMID: 23449038
Atrophic tympanic membrane; Pure tone audiogram
13.  Sound transmission along the ossicular chain in common wild-type laboratory mice 
Hearing research  2012;301:27-34.
The use of genetically modified mice can accelerate progress in auditory research. However, the fundamental profile of mouse hearing has not been thoroughly documented. In the current study, we explored mouse middle ear transmission by measuring sound-evoked vibrations at several key points along the ossicular chain using a laser-Doppler vibrometer. Observations were made through an opening in pars flaccida. Simultaneously, the pressure at the tympanic membrane close to the umbo was monitored using a micro-pressure-sensor. Measurements were performed in C57BL mice, which are widely used in hearing research. Our results show that the ossicular local transfer function, defined as the ratio of velocity to the pressure at the tympanic membrane, was like a high-pass filter, almost flat at frequencies above ~15 kHz, decreasing rapidly at lower frequencies. There was little phase accumulation along the ossicles. Our results suggested that the mouse ossicles moved almost as a rigid body. Based on these 1-dimensional measurements, the malleus–incus-complex primarily rotated around the anatomical axis passing through the gonial termination of the anterior malleus and the short process of the incus, but secondary motions were also present.
PMCID: PMC3669248  PMID: 23183032
14.  Digital holographic measurements of shape and 3D sound-induced displacements of Tympanic Membrane 
Acoustically-induced vibrations of the Tympanic Membrane (TM) play a primary role in the hearing process, in that these motions are the initial mechanical response of the ear to airborne sound. Characterization of the shape and 3D displacement patterns of the TM is a crucial step to a better understanding of the complicated mechanics of sound reception by the ear. In this paper, shape and sound-induced 3D displacements of the TM in cadaveric chinchillas are measured by a lensless Dual-Wavelength Digital Holography system (DWDHS). The DWDHS consists of Laser Delivery (LD), Optical Head (OH), and Computing Platform (CP) subsystems. Shape measurements are performed in double-exposure mode and with the use of two wavelengths of a tunable laser while nanometer-scale displacements are measured along a single sensitivity direction and with a constant wavelength. In order to extract the three principal components of displacement in full-field-of-view, and taking into consideration the anatomical dimensions of the TM, we combine principles of thin-shell theory together with both, displacement measurements along the single sensitivity vector and TM surface shape. To computationally test this approach, Finite Element Methods (FEM) are applied to the study of artificial geometries.
PMCID: PMC4001988  PMID: 24790255
Digital Holography; Middle-ear Mechanics; Shape and 3D Displacement Measurements; Sound-induced Response; Thin-shell Theory; Tympanic Membrane
We report the results of anatomical and vibrometric studies of the middle ear of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. The cartilaginous tympanic disk of Xenopus shows pronounced sexual dimorphism, that of male frogs being much larger than that of females, relative to body size. The stapes footplate, however, is not enlarged in males. The cucullaris muscle was found to insert on the stapes in frogs of both sexes. Using laser interferometry to examine the response of middle ear structures to airborne sound, the stapes footplate was found to vibrate close to 180° out-of-phase with the tympanic disk across a range of frequencies, this resembling the relationship between tympanic membrane and footplate movement previously described in ranid frogs. By contrast, whereas there is a pronounced difference in vibration velocity between tympanic membrane and footplate in ranids, the footplate vibration velocity in Xenopus was found to be similar to that of the tympanic disk. This may be interpreted as an adaptation to improve the detection of sound underwater.
PMCID: PMC2953823  PMID: 20953303
16.  Imaging high-frequency periodic motion in the mouse ear with coherently interleaved optical coherence tomography 
Optics letters  2011;36(23):4716-4718.
Vibratory measurements of the structures of the ear are key to understanding much of the pathology in mouse models of hearing loss. Unfortunately the high-speed sampling required to interrogate the high end of the mouse hearing spectrum is beyond the reach of most optical coherence tomography (OCT) systems. To address this issue, we have developed an algorithm that enables phase-sensitive OCT measurements over the full range of the mouse hearing spectrum (4–90 kHz). The algorithm phase-locks the line-trigger to the acoustic stimulation and then uses interleaved sampling to reconstruct the signal with higher temporal sampling. The algorithm was evaluated by measuring the vibratory response of mouse tympanic membrane to a pure tone stimulus.
PMCID: PMC3597110  PMID: 22139294
17.  Acoustical Coupling of Lizard Eardrums 
Lizard ears are clear examples of two-input pressure-difference receivers, with up to 40-dB differences in eardrum vibration amplitude in response to ipsi- and contralateral stimulus directions. The directionality is created by acoustical coupling of the eardrums and interaction of the direct and indirect sound components on the eardrum. The ensuing pressure-difference characteristics generate the highest directionality of any similar-sized terrestrial vertebrate ear. The aim of the present study was to measure the gain of the direct and indirect sound components in three lizard species: Anolis sagrei and Basiliscus vittatus (iguanids) and Hemidactylus frenatus (gekkonid) by laser vibrometry, using either free-field sound or a headphone and coupler for stimulation. The directivity of the ear of these lizards is pronounced in the frequency range from 2 to 5 kHz. The directivity is ovoidal, asymmetrical across the midline, but largely symmetrical across the interaural axis (i.e., front–back). Occlusion of the contralateral ear abolishes the directionality. We stimulated the two eardrums with a coupler close to the eardrum to measure the gain of the sound pathways. Within the frequency range of maximal directionality, the interaural transmission gain (compared to sound arriving directly) is close to or even exceeds unity, indicating a pronounced acoustical transparency of the lizard head and resonances in the interaural cavities. Our results show that the directionality of the lizard ear is caused by the acoustic interaction of the two eardrums. The results can be largely explained by a simple acoustical model based on an electrical analog circuit.
PMCID: PMC2580811  PMID: 18648878
lizard; tympanum; vibrometry; directional; hearing; reptile
18.  Interactions between Hair Cells Shape Spontaneous Otoacoustic Emissions in a Model of the Tokay Gecko's Cochlea 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11116.
The hearing of tetrapods including humans is enhanced by an active process that amplifies the mechanical inputs associated with sound, sharpens frequency selectivity, and compresses the range of responsiveness. The most striking manifestation of the active process is spontaneous otoacoustic emission, the unprovoked emergence of sound from an ear. Hair cells, the sensory receptors of the inner ear, are known to provide the energy for such emissions; it is unclear, though, how ensembles of such cells collude to power observable emissions.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We have measured and modeled spontaneous otoacoustic emissions from the ear of the tokay gecko, a convenient experimental subject that produces robust emissions. Using a van der Pol formulation to represent each cluster of hair cells within a tonotopic array, we have examined the factors that influence the cooperative interaction between oscillators.
Conclusions and Significance
A model that includes viscous interactions between adjacent hair cells fails to produce emissions similar to those observed experimentally. In contrast, elastic coupling yields realistic results, especially if the oscillators near the ends of the array are weakened so as to minimize boundary effects. Introducing stochastic irregularity in the strength of oscillators stabilizes peaks in the spectrum of modeled emissions, further increasing the similarity to the responses of actual ears. Finally, and again in agreement with experimental findings, the inclusion of a pure-tone external stimulus repels the spectral peaks of spontaneous emissions. Our results suggest that elastic coupling between oscillators of slightly differing strength explains several properties of the spontaneous otoacoustic emissions in the gecko.
PMCID: PMC2886102  PMID: 20559557
19.  The effects of experimentally induced conductive hearing loss on spectral and temporal aspects of sound transmission through the ear 
Hearing research  2010;272(1-2):30-41.
Conductive hearing loss (CHL) is known to produce hearing deficits, including deficits in sound localization ability. The differences in sound intensities and timing experienced between the two tympanic membranes are important cues to sound localization (ILD and ITD, respectively). Although much is known about the effect of CHL on hearing levels, little investigation has been conducted into the actual impact of CHL on sound location cues. This study investigated effects of CHL induced by earplugs on cochlear microphonic (CM) amplitude and timing and their corresponding effect on the ILD and ITD location cues. Acoustic and CM measurements were made in 5 chinchillas before and after earplug insertion, and again after earplug removal using pure tones (500 Hz to 24 kHz). ILDs in the unoccluded condition demonstrated position and frequency dependence where peak far-lateral ILDs approached 30 dB for high frequencies. Unoccluded ear ITD cues demonstrated positional and frequency dependence with increased ITD cue for both decreasing frequency (± 420 µs at 500 Hz, ± 310 µs for 1–4 kHz ) and increasingly lateral sound source locations. Occlusion of the ear canal with foam plugs resulted in a mild, frequency-dependent conductive hearing loss of 10–38 dB (mean 31 ± 3.9 dB) leading to a concomitant frequency dependent increase in ILDs at all source locations. The effective ITDs increased in a frequency dependent manner with ear occlusion as a direct result of the acoustic properties of the plugging material, the latter confirmed via acoustical measurements using a model ear canal with varying volumes of acoustic foam. Upon ear plugging with acoustic foam, a mild CHL is induced. Furthermore, the CHL induced by acoustic foam results in substantial changes in the magnitudes of both the ITD and ILD cues to sound location.
PMCID: PMC3073683  PMID: 21073935
Conductive hearing loss; Interaural level differences (ILD); Interaural timing differences (ITD); Otitis media with effusion
20.  Effects of Signal Level and Background Noise on Spectral Representations in the Auditory Nerve of the Domestic Cat 
Background noise poses a significant obstacle for auditory perception, especially among individuals with hearing loss. To better understand the physiological basis of this perceptual impediment, the present study evaluated the effects of background noise on the auditory nerve representation of head-related transfer functions (HRTFs). These complex spectral shapes describe the directional filtering effects of the head and torso. When a broadband sound passes through the outer ear en route to the tympanic membrane, the HRTF alters its spectrum in a manner that establishes the perceived location of the sound source. HRTF-shaped noise shares many of the acoustic features of human speech, while communicating biologically relevant localization cues that are generalized across mammalian species. Previous studies have used parametric manipulations of random spectral shapes to elucidate HRTF coding principles at various stages of the cat’s auditory system. This study extended that body of work by examining the effects of sound level and background noise on the quality of spectral coding in the auditory nerve. When fibers were classified by their spontaneous rates, the coding properties of the more numerous low-threshold, high-spontaneous rate fibers were found to degrade at high presentation levels and in low signal-to-noise ratios. Because cats are known to maintain accurate directional hearing under these challenging listening conditions, behavioral performance may be disproportionally based on the enhanced dynamic range of the less common high-threshold, low-spontaneous rate fibers.
PMCID: PMC3015029  PMID: 20824483
spectral integration; auditory nerve; rate representation; sound localization; background noise
21.  A Tympanal Insect Ear Exploits a Critical Oscillator for Active Amplification and Tuning 
Current Biology  2013;23(19):1952-1957.
A dominant theme of acoustic communication is the partitioning of acoustic space into exclusive, species-specific niches to enable efficient information transfer. In insects, acoustic niche partitioning is achieved through auditory frequency filtering, brought about by the mechanical properties of their ears [1]. The tuning of the antennal ears of mosquitoes [2] and flies [3], however, arises from active amplification, a process similar to that at work in the mammalian cochlea [4]. Yet, the presence of active amplification in the other type of insect ears—tympanal ears—has remained uncertain [5]. Here we demonstrate the presence of active amplification and adaptive tuning in the tympanal ear of a phylogenetically basal insect, a tree cricket. We also show that the tree cricket exploits critical oscillator-like mechanics, enabling high auditory sensitivity and tuning to conspecific songs. These findings imply that sophisticated auditory mechanisms may have appeared even earlier in the evolution of hearing and acoustic communication than currently appreciated. Our findings also raise the possibility that frequency discrimination and directional hearing in tympanal systems may rely on physiological nonlinearities, in addition to mechanical properties, effectively lifting some of the physical constraints placed on insects by their small size [6] and prompting an extensive reexamination of invertebrate audition.
•The tympanal ears of a tree cricket use active amplification•Active amplification and not passive resonance determines tuning to song frequency•Active amplification and tuning have an “on” and an “off” state•Crickets are the phylogenetically oldest insects with active auditory amplification
PMCID: PMC3793861  PMID: 24076240
22.  Specialization for underwater hearing by the tympanic middle ear of the turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans 
Turtles, like other amphibious animals, face a trade-off between terrestrial and aquatic hearing. We used laser vibrometry and auditory brainstem responses to measure their sensitivity to vibration stimuli and to airborne versus underwater sound. Turtles are most sensitive to sound underwater, and their sensitivity depends on the large middle ear, which has a compliant tympanic disc attached to the columella. Behind the disc, the middle ear is a large air-filled cavity with a volume of approximately 0.5 ml and a resonance frequency of approximately 500 Hz underwater. Laser vibrometry measurements underwater showed peak vibrations at 500–600 Hz with a maximum of 300 µm s−1 Pa−1, approximately 100 times more than the surrounding water. In air, the auditory brainstem response audiogram showed a best sensitivity to sound of 300–500 Hz. Audiograms before and after removing the skin covering reveal that the cartilaginous tympanic disc shows unchanged sensitivity, indicating that the tympanic disc, and not the overlying skin, is the key sound receiver. If air and water thresholds are compared in terms of sound intensity, thresholds in water are approximately 20–30 dB lower than in air. Therefore, this tympanic ear is specialized for underwater hearing, most probably because sound-induced pulsations of the air in the middle ear cavity drive the tympanic disc.
PMCID: PMC3367789  PMID: 22438494
underwater sound; evolution; cochlea; auditory brainstem response
23.  Investigation of bacterial biofilm in the human middle ear using optical coherence tomography and acoustic measurements 
Hearing research  2013;301:193-200.
Children with chronic otitis media (OM) often have conductive hearing loss which results in communication difficulties and requires surgical treatment. Recent studies have provided clinical evidence that there is a one-to-one correspondence between chronic OM and the presence of a bacterial biofilm behind the tympanic membrane (TM). Here we investigate the acoustic effects of bacterial biofilms, confirmed using optical coherence tomography (OCT), in adult ears. Non-invasive OCT images are collected to visualize the cross-sectional structure of the middle ear, verifying the presence of a biofilm behind the TM. Wideband measurements of acoustic reflectance and impedance (0.2 to 6 [kHz]) are used to study the acoustic properties of ears with confirmed bacterial biofilms. Compared to known acoustic properties of normal middle ears, each of the ears with a bacterial biofilm has an elevated power reflectance in the 1 to 3 [kHz] range, corresponding to an abnormally small resistance (real part of the impedance). These results provide assistance for the clinical diagnosis of a bacterial biofilm, which could lead to improved treatment of chronic middle ear infection and further understanding of the impact of chronic OM on conductive hearing loss.
PMCID: PMC3669223  PMID: 23588039
bacterial biofilm; optical coherence tomography; reflectance; impedance; middle ear; otitis media; tympanic membrane
24.  Middle Ear Cavity Morphology Is Consistent with an Aquatic Origin for Testudines 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54086.
The position of testudines in vertebrate phylogeny is being re-evaluated. At present, testudine morphological and molecular data conflict when reconstructing phylogenetic relationships. Complicating matters, the ecological niche of stem testudines is ambiguous. To understand how turtles have evolved to hear in different environments, we examined middle ear morphology and scaling in most extant families, as well as some extinct species, using 3-dimensional reconstructions from micro magnetic resonance (MR) and submillimeter computed tomography (CT) scans. All families of testudines exhibited a similar shape of the bony structure of the middle ear cavity, with the tympanic disk located on the rostrolateral edge of the cavity. Sea Turtles have additional soft tissue that fills the middle ear cavity to varying degrees. When the middle ear cavity is modeled as an air-filled sphere of the same volume resonating in an underwater sound field, the calculated resonances for the volumes of the middle ear cavities largely fell within testudine hearing ranges. Although there were some differences in morphology, there were no statistically significant differences in the scaling of the volume of the bony middle ear cavity with head size among groups when categorized by phylogeny and ecology. Because the cavity is predicted to resonate underwater within the testudine hearing range, the data support the hypothesis of an aquatic origin for testudines, and function of the middle ear cavity in underwater sound detection.
PMCID: PMC3544720  PMID: 23342082
25.  Computer-assisted time-averaged holograms of the motion of the surface of the mammalian tympanic membrane with sound stimuli of 0.4 to 25 kHz 
Hearing research  2009;253(1-2):83-96.
Time-averaged holograms describing the sound-induced motion of the tympanic membrane (TM) in cadaveric preparations from three mammalian species and one live ear were measured using opto-electronic holography. This technique allows rapid measurements of the magnitude of motion of the tympanic membrane surface at frequencies as high as 25 kHz. The holograms measured in response to low and middle-frequency sound stimuli are similar to previously reported time-averaged holograms. However, at higher frequencies (f > 4 kHz), our holograms reveal unique TM surface displacement patterns that consist of highly-ordered arrangements of multiple local displacement magnitude maxima, each of which is surrounded by nodal areas of low displacement magnitude. These patterns are similar to modal patterns (two-dimensional standing waves) produced by either the interaction of surface waves traveling in multiple directions or the uniform stimulation of modes of motion that are determined by the structural properties and boundary conditions of the TM. From the ratio of the displacement magnitude peaks to nodal valleys in these apparent surface waves, we estimate a Standing Wave Ratio of at least 4 that is consistent with energy reflection coefficients at the TM boundaries of at least 0.35. It is also consistent with small losses within the uniformly stimulated modal surface waves. We also estimate possible TM surface wave speeds that vary with frequency and species from 20 to 65 m/s, consistent with other estimates in the literature. The presence of standing wave or modal phenomena has previously been intuited from measurements of TM function, but is ignored in some models of tympanic membrane function. Whether these standing waves result either from the interactions of multiple surface waves that travel along the membrane, or by uniformly excited modal displacement patterns of the entire TM surface is still to be determined.
PMCID: PMC2711632  PMID: 19328841

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