Frequency selectivity in the auditory periphery: Similarities between damaged and developing ears

Edward J. Walsh, Jo Ann McGee

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Scopus citations


    Single fiber tuning curves (stimulus frequency versus neural threshold curves) were obtained from 198 auditory nerve fibers in 24 kittens between birth and the 16th postnatal day and from 74 auditory nerve fibers in adult cats. Three developmental stages during which adult-like frequency-resolving capacity was acquired were identified. During the early stage of postnatal development, all auditory nerve fibers were essentially untuned and responded to a narrow range of low to middle frequency tone bursts presented at intensities exceeding 110 dB sound pressure level (SPL) re 20 μPa. In the intermediate stage, which occurred during the second postnatal week, auditory nerve fibers tuned to low- and mid-range frequencies acquired adult-like frequency-resolving capacity. Fibers tuned to high frequencies, which were recorded later in development than those tuned to lower frequencies, were as sharply tuned as their adult counterparts, but exhibited a low contrast between thresholds at characteristic frequency (tip) and lower (tail) frequencies (ie, low tip-to-tail ratios). Adult-like tuning curves were observed during the third stage, primarily as a consequence of the acquisition of adult-like tip-to-tail ratios. Our understanding of the cochlear mechanism(s) by which frequency selectivity is produced in adult animals has recently been enhanced by a combined anatomy and physiology investigation conducted by Liberman and Dodds,1 in which clear anatomic foci of cochlear damage were identified in cats with functionally characterized hearing loss. Similarly, descriptions of anatomic differentiation in the feline auditory end-organ2 correlate with functional measures of peripheral auditory system development. In this report, anatomic and physiologic similarities between developing and damaged ears are considered in an attempt to better characterize the process whereby normal frequency selectivities and thresholds are developed. Our findings support the notion that anatomic changes in the cochlea during development, primarily the development of adult-like anatomic relations between the tectorial membrane and sensory cells, underlie the acquisition of adult-like auditory nerve fiber tuning.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)23-32
    Number of pages10
    JournalAmerican Journal of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 1990


    • acoustic trauma
    • auditory nerve
    • development
    • frequency selectivity
    • ototoxicity

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Otorhinolaryngology


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