Responses of the ear to low-frequency and infrasonic sounds have not been extensively studied. Understanding how the ear responds to low frequencies is increasingly important as environmental infrasounds are becoming more pervasive from sources such as wind turbines. This study shows endolymphatic potentials in the third cochlear turn from acoustic infrasound (5 Hz) are larger than from tones in the audible range (e.g., 50 and 500 Hz), in some cases with peak-to-peak amplitude greater than 20 mV. These large potentials were suppressed by higher-frequency tones and were rapidly abolished by perilymphatic injection of KCl at the cochlear apex, demonstrating their third-turn origins. Endolymphatic iso-potentials from 5 to 500 Hz were enhanced relative to perilymphatic potentials as frequency was lowered. Probe and infrasonic bias tones were used to study the origin of the enhanced potentials. Potentials were best explained as a saturating response summed with a sinusoidal voltage (Vo), that was phase delayed by an average of 60° relative to the biasing effects of the infrasound. Vo is thought to arise indirectly from hair cell activity, such as from strial potential changes caused by sustained current changes through the hair cells in each half cycle of the infrasound.
Alec N. Salt, Jeffery T. Lichtenhan, Ruth M. Gill, and Jared J. Hartsock
Department of Otolaryngology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2013 Mar;133(3):1561-71. doi: 10.1121/1.4789005.
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