To determine whether the source of age-dependent latency changes for ABR wave I results from cochlear mechanics or the haircell-neuron synapse.
Cochlear traveling wave delays were estimated on the basis of derived ABR response latencies and DPOAE phase delays. The difference in travel time between adjacent one octave-separated frequencies was calculated for four age groups: 30 to 33 wk old, 34 to 37 wk old, 38 to 42 wk old (term), and young adults.
We found that there were essentially no travel time differences between newborns in the 34 to 37 and the 38 to 42 wk conceptional age (CA) groups as estimated from DPOAE phase delays. For the 30- to 33-wk-olds, DPOAE travel times were increased at all frequencies, likely due to mild (about 10 to 15 dB) conductive hearing losses. Differences in travel times between adjacent bands, however, were not different from the other neonatal groups. Estimates on basis of wave I latency showed delays for the high-frequency region, 6 to 11 kHz, that were still immature at term.
A comparison of frequency-dependent travel times calculated for wave I and DPOAE data in comparable age groups suggests mature cochlear functioning at 35 wk CA and a delayed maturation for the haircell-auditory nerve synapses relative to the preneural components for the basal turn with center frequencies above 6 kHz.