The dynamics of the stapedial acoustic reflex
This thesis aims to separate the neural and muscular components of the stapedial acoustic reflex, both anatomically and physiologically. It aims to present an hypothesis to account for the differences between ipsilateral and contralateral reflex characteristics which have so far been unexplained, and achieve a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying reflex dynamics. This is accomplished by both empirical measurement of the contralateral and ipsilateral reflex, and development of a computer model of the reflex system. A review of the pertinent literature, including both physiological and audiological research, is undertaken. A technique enabling faithful reproduction of the time course of the reflex is used throughout the experimental work. The technique measures tympanic membrane displacement as a result of reflex stapedius muscle contraction. The recorded response can be directly related to the mechanics of the middle ear and stapedius muscle contraction. Some development of the technique is undertaken by the author. A model of the reflex neural arc and stapedius muscle dynamics is evolved that is based upon a second order system. The model is unique in that it includes a latency in the ipsilateral negative feedback loop. Oscillations commonly observed on reflex responses are seen to be produced because of the inclusion of a latency in the feedback loop. The model demonstrates and explains the complex relationships between neural and muscle dynamic parameters observed in the experimental work. This more comprehensive understanding of the interaction between the stapedius dynamics and the neural arc of the reflex would not usually have been possible using human subjects, coupled with a non-invasive measurement technique. Evidence from the experimental work revealed the ipsilateral reflex to have, on average, a 5 dB lower threshold than the contralateral reflex. The oscillatory characteristics, and the steady state response, of the contralateral reflex are also seen to be significantly different from those of the ipsilateral reflex. An hypothesis to account for the experimental observations is proposed. It is propounded that chemical neurotransmitters, and their effect upon the contralateral reflex arc from the site of the superior olivary complex to the motoneurones innervating the stapedius, account for the difference between the contralateral and ipsilateral reflex thresholds and dynamic characteristics. In the past two years the measurement technique used for the experimental work has developed from an audiological to a neurological diagnostic tool. This has enabled the results from the study to be applied in the field for valuable biomechanical and neurological explanations of the reflex response.