A cochlea with three parts? Evidence from otoacoustic emission phase in humans

Anders T. Christensen, Carolina Abdala, Christopher A. Shera

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The apical and basal regions of the cochlea appear functionally distinct. In humans, compelling evidence for an apical-basal transition derives from the phase of otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), whose frequency dependence differs at low and high frequencies. Although OAEs arising from the two major source mechanisms (distortion and reflection) both support the existence of an apical-basal transition-as identified via a prominent bend (or "break") in OAE phase slope-the two OAE types disagree about its precise location along the cochlea. Whereas distortion OAEs at frequency 2f1-f2 suggest that the apical-basal transition occurs near the 2.5 kHz place, reflection OAEs locate the transition closer to 1 kHz. To address this discrepancy, distortion and reflection OAEs were measured and analyzed in 20 young human adults from 0.25-8 kHz and at eight primary-frequency ratios f2/f1 in the range 1-1.5. Break frequencies and OAE phase-gradient delays were estimated by fitting segmented linear models to the unwrapped phase. When distortion- and reflection-OAE phase are considered as functions of ln f2-that is, as linear functions of the location of their putative site of generation within the cochlea-the analysis identifies not just two but three main cochlear segments, meeting at transition frequencies of approximately 0.9 and 2.6 kHz, whose locations are largely independent both of primary-frequency ratio and emission type. A simple model incorporating an abrupt transition from wave- to place-fixed behavior near the middle of the cochlea accounts for key features of distortion-OAE phase.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)1585–1601
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


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