Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol:108 issue:42 pages:17516-17520
Frequency selectivity in the inner ear is fundamental to hearing and is traditionally thought to be similar across mammals. Although direct measurements are not possible in humans, estimates of frequency tuning based on noninvasive recordings of sound evoked from the cochlea (otoacoustic emissions) have suggested substantially sharper tuning in humans but remain controversial. We report measurements of frequency tuning in macaque monkeys, Old-World primates phylogenetically closer to humans than the laboratory animals often taken as models of human hearing (e.g., cats, guinea pigs, chinchillas). We find that measurements of tuning obtained directly from individual auditory-nerve fibers and indirectly using otoacoustic emissions both indicate that at characteristic frequencies above about 500 Hz, peripheral frequency selectivity in macaques is significantly sharper than in these common laboratory animals, matching that inferred for humans above 4-5 kHz. Compared with the macaque, the human otoacoustic estimates thus appear neither prohibitively sharp nor exceptional. Our results validate the use of otoacoustic emissions for noninvasive measurement of cochlear tuning and corroborate the finding of sharp tuning in humans. The results have important implications for understanding the mechanical and neural coding of sound in the human cochlea, and thus for developing strategies to compensate for the degradation of tuning in the hearing-impaired.