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We investigate the optical transmission oscillation of multiple quantum wells (MQWs) under the modulation of coherent acoustic phonons. We treat the coherent acoustic phonons as a semiclassical wave obeying continuum elastic equations. Starting from the microscopic electron–phonon interaction Hamiltonian, we obtain expressions for optical absorption modulation of the MQWs due to coherent acoustic phonons. The acoustic phonons introduce a renormalization to single-particle energy and furthermore modify the resonant condition of photon absorption. The optical transmission modulation can be conveniently expressed with the use of sensitivity functions. We derive the analytical expressions for the sensitivity functions by which we calculate the optical transient transmission changes. The calculated results are in good agreement with the experimental observations. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.