The active mechanism in the cochlea is thought to depend on the integrity of the outer hair cells (OHCs). Cochlear hearing loss is usually associated with damage to both inner hair cells (IHCs) and OHCs, with the latter resulting in a reduction in or complete loss of the function of the active mechanism. It is believed that the active mechanism contributes to the sharpness of tuning on the basilar membrane (BM) and is also responsible for compressive input-output functions on the BM. Hence, one would expect a close relationship between measures of sharpness of tuning and measures of compression. This idea was tested by comparing three different measures of the status of the active mechanism, at center frequencies of 2, 4, and 6 kHz, using subjects with normal hearing, with unilateral or highly asymmetric cochlear hearing loss, and with bilateral loss. The first measure, HL(OHC), was an indirect measure of the amount of the heating loss attributable to OHC damage; this was based on loudness matches between the two ears of subjects with unilateral hearing loss and was derived using a loudness model. The second measure was the equivalent rectangular bandwidth (ERB) of the auditory filter, which was estimated using the notched-noise method. The third measure was based on the slopes of growth-of-masking functions obtained in forward masking. The ratio of slopes for a masker centered well below the signal frequency and a masker centered at the signal frequency gives a measure of BM compression at the place corresponding to the signal frequency; a ratio close to 1 indicates little or no compression, while ratios less than 1 indicate that compression is occurring at the signal place. Generally, the results showed the expected pattern. The ERB tended to increase with increasing HL(OHC). The ratio of the forward-masking slopes increased from about 0.3 to about 1 as HL(OHC) increased from 0 to 55 dB. The ratio of the slopes was highly correlated with the ERB (r= 0.92); indicating that the sharpness of the auditory filter decreases as the compression on the BM decreases.
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