The Middle Ear Muscle Reflex in Rat: Developing a Biomarker of Auditory Nerve Degeneration

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The long-term goal of this research is to determine whether the middle ear muscle reflex can be used to predict the number of healthy auditory nerve fibers in hearing-impaired ears. In this study, we develop a high-impedance source and an animal model of the middle ear muscle reflex and explore the influence of signal frequency and level on parameters of the reflex to determine an optimal signal to examine auditory nerve fiber survival.


A high-impedance source was developed using a hearing aid receiver attached to a 0.06 diameter 10.5-cm length tube. The impedance probe consisted of a microphone probe placed near the tip of a tube coupled to a sound source. The probe was calibrated by inserting it into a syringe of known volumes and impedances. The reflex in the anesthetized rat was measured with elicitor stimuli ranging from 3 to 16 kHz presented at levels ranging from 35 to 100 dB SPL to one ear while the reflex was measured in the opposite ear containing the probe and probe stimulus.


The amplitude of the reflex increased with elicitor level and was largest at 3 kHz. The lowest threshold was approximately 54 dB SPL for the 3-kHz stimulus. The rate of decay of the reflex was greatest at 16 kHz followed by 10 and 3 kHz. The rate of decay did not change significantly with elicitor signal level for 3 and 16 kHz, but decreased as the level of the 10-kHz elicitor increased. A negative feedback model accounts for the reflex decay by having the strength of feedback dependent on auditory nerve input. The rise time of the reflex varied with frequency and changed with level for the 10- and 16-kHz signals but not significantly for the 3-kHz signal. The latency of the reflex increased with a decrease in elicitor level, and the change in latency with level was largest for the 10-kHz stimulus.


Because the amplitude of the reflex in rat was largest with an elicitor signal at 3 kHz, had the lowest threshold, and yielded the least amount of decay, this may be the ideal frequency to estimate auditory nerve survival in hearing-impaired ears.

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