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Concept: Auditory system


How the human auditory system extracts perceptually relevant acoustic features of speech is unknown. To address this question, we used intracranial recordings from nonprimary auditory cortex in the human superior temporal gyrus to determine what acoustic information in speech sounds can be reconstructed from population neural activity. We found that slow and intermediate temporal fluctuations, such as those corresponding to syllable rate, were accurately reconstructed using a linear model based on the auditory spectrogram. However, reconstruction of fast temporal fluctuations, such as syllable onsets and offsets, required a nonlinear sound representation based on temporal modulation energy. Reconstruction accuracy was highest within the range of spectro-temporal fluctuations that have been found to be critical for speech intelligibility. The decoded speech representations allowed readout and identification of individual words directly from brain activity during single trial sound presentations. These findings reveal neural encoding mechanisms of speech acoustic parameters in higher order human auditory cortex.

Concepts: Brain, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Primary auditory cortex, Superior temporal gyrus, Auditory system, Acoustics, Sound


Recent neuroscience research suggests that tinnitus may reflect synaptic loss in the cochlea that does not express in the audiogram but leads to neural changes in auditory pathways that reduce sound level tolerance (SLT). Adolescents (N = 170) completed a questionnaire addressing their prior experience with tinnitus, potentially risky listening habits, and sensitivity to ordinary sounds, followed by psychoacoustic measurements in a sound booth. Among all adolescents 54.7% reported by questionnaire that they had previously experienced tinnitus, while 28.8% heard tinnitus in the booth. Psychoacoustic properties of tinnitus measured in the sound booth corresponded with those of chronic adult tinnitus sufferers. Neither hearing thresholds (≤15 dB HL to 16 kHz) nor otoacoustic emissions discriminated between adolescents reporting or not reporting tinnitus in the sound booth, but loudness discomfort levels (a psychoacoustic measure of SLT) did so, averaging 11.3 dB lower in adolescents experiencing tinnitus in the acoustic chamber. Although risky listening habits were near universal, the teenagers experiencing tinnitus and reduced SLT tended to be more protective of their hearing. Tinnitus and reduced SLT could be early indications of a vulnerability to hidden synaptic injury that is prevalent among adolescents and expressed following exposure to high level environmental sounds.

Concepts: Auditory system, Acoustics, Ultrasound, Ear, Sound, Audiogram, Hearing


Timbre is the attribute of sound that allows humans and other animals to distinguish among different sound sources. Studies based on psychophysical judgments of musical timbre, ecological analyses of sound’s physical characteristics as well as machine learning approaches have all suggested that timbre is a multifaceted attribute that invokes both spectral and temporal sound features. Here, we explored the neural underpinnings of musical timbre. We used a neuro-computational framework based on spectro-temporal receptive fields, recorded from over a thousand neurons in the mammalian primary auditory cortex as well as from simulated cortical neurons, augmented with a nonlinear classifier. The model was able to perform robust instrument classification irrespective of pitch and playing style, with an accuracy of 98.7%. Using the same front end, the model was also able to reproduce perceptual distance judgments between timbres as perceived by human listeners. The study demonstrates that joint spectro-temporal features, such as those observed in the mammalian primary auditory cortex, are critical to provide the rich-enough representation necessary to account for perceptual judgments of timbre by human listeners, as well as recognition of musical instruments.

Concepts: Brain, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Auditory system, Sound, Music, Musical instrument, Timbre


During brain maturation, the occurrence of the extracellular matrix (ECM) terminates juvenile plasticity by mediating structural stability. Interestingly, enzymatic removal of the ECM restores juvenile forms of plasticity, as for instance demonstrated by topographical reconnectivity in sensory pathways. However, to which degree the mature ECM is a compromise between stability and flexibility in the adult brain impacting synaptic plasticity as a fundamental basis for learning, lifelong memory formation, and higher cognitive functions is largely unknown. In this study, we removed the ECM in the auditory cortex of adult Mongolian gerbils during specific phases of cortex-dependent auditory relearning, which was induced by the contingency reversal of a frequency-modulated tone discrimination, a task requiring high behavioral flexibility. We found that ECM removal promoted a significant increase in relearning performance, without erasing already established-that is, learned-capacities when continuing discrimination training. The cognitive flexibility required for reversal learning of previously acquired behavioral habits, commonly understood to mainly rely on frontostriatal circuits, was enhanced by promoting synaptic plasticity via ECM removal within the sensory cortex. Our findings further suggest experimental modulation of the cortical ECM as a tool to open short-term windows of enhanced activity-dependent reorganization allowing for guided neuroplasticity.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognition, Cerebral cortex, Memory, Auditory system, Knowledge, Neuroplasticity


The Lombard effect describes the automatic and involuntary increase in vocal intensity that speakers exhibit in a noisy environment. Previous studies of the Lombard effect have typically focused on the relationship between speaking and hearing. Automatic and involuntary increases in motor output have also been noted in studies of finger force production, an effect attributed to mechanisms of sensory attenuation. The present study tested the hypothesis that sensory attenuation mechanisms also underlie expression of the Lombard effect. Participants vocalized phonemes in time with a metronome, while auditory and visual feedback of their performance were manipulated or removed during the course of the trial. We demonstrate that providing a visual reference to calibrate somatosensory-based judgments of current vocal intensity resulted in reduced expression of the Lombard effect. Our results suggest that sensory attenuation effects typically seen in fingertip force production play an important role in the control of speech volume.

Concepts: Time, Auditory system, Sensory system, Human voice, Control theory, Phonetics, Audio feedback, Lombard effect


Auditory training involves active listening to auditory stimuli and aims to improve performance in auditory tasks. As such, auditory training is a potential intervention for the management of people with hearing loss.

Concepts: Randomized controlled trial, Auditory system, Hearing impairment, Audiogram, Hearing, Active listening


The auditory pathways coursing through the brainstem are organized bilaterally in mirror image about the midline and at several levels the two sides are interconnected. One of the most prominent points of interconnection is the commissure of the inferior colliculus (CoIC). Anatomical studies have revealed that these fibers make reciprocal connections which follow the tonotopic organization of the inferior colliculus (IC), and that the commissure contains both excitatory and, albeit fewer, inhibitory fibers. The role of these connections in sound processing is largely unknown. Here we describe a method to address this question in the anaesthetized guinea pig. We used a cryoloop placed on one IC to produce reversible deactivation while recording electrophysiological responses to sounds in both ICs. We recorded single units, multi-unit clusters and local field potentials (LFPs) before, during and after cooling. The degree and spread of cooling was measured with a thermocouple placed in the IC and other auditory structures. Cooling sufficient to eliminate firing was restricted to the IC contacted by the cryoloop. The temperature of other auditory brainstem structures, including the contralateral IC and the cochlea were minimally affected. Cooling below 20°C reduced or eliminated the firing of action potentials in frequency laminae at depths corresponding to characteristic frequencies up to ~8 kHz. Modulation of neural activity also occurred in the un-cooled IC with changes in single unit firing and LFPs. Components of LFPs signaling lemniscal afferent input to the IC showed little change in amplitude or latency with cooling, whereas the later components, which likely reflect inter- and intra-collicular processing, showed marked changes in form and amplitude. We conclude that the cryoloop is an effective method of selectively deactivating one IC in guinea pig, and demonstrate that auditory processing in the IC is strongly influenced by the other.

Concepts: Action potential, Electrophysiology, Auditory system, Sound, Superior colliculus, Excitatory postsynaptic potential, Inhibitory postsynaptic potential, Inferior colliculus


The development of minimally invasive procedures such as the balloon dilation Eustachian tuboplasty (BET) is an alternative to the grommet tympanum membrane. BET is applied in the cases where, after elimination of all factors influencing the ET and middle ear functioning, no sufficient improvement is observed. The aim of this study was to present the therapeutic benefits of the BET method in the treatment of ETD caused by disorders in the middle ear ventilation. The BET procedure was offered to four patients (3 men and 1 woman) after subjective, physical, otorhinolaryngological and audiometric examinations including pure tone audiometry, tympanometry and pressure-swallow test. As the method was novel, preinterventional CT angiography of the carotid arteries was performed in all patients. Any complications were noticed during and after the procedure (bleeding or damage of regional mucosa) in any patients. Our clinical studies assessed the feasibility and safety of the BET during a short-term period-only a 6-week observation. Although patients revealed a significant improvement of ET score, longer long-term studies are necessary to determine whether this method will demonstrate lasting benefits and safety in the treatment of chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction. In other investigations, improvement was found to be time dependent.

Concepts: Scientific method, Auditory system, Common carotid artery, Middle ear, Eustachian tube, Otitis media, Ear, Patulous Eustachian tube


To evaluate the onset of vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus in Ménière’s disease and the associated endolymphatic hydrops (EH) of the inner ear.

Concepts: Auditory system, Cochlea, Hearing impairment, Ear, Tinnitus, Ménière's disease, Inner ear, Endolymph


Auditory neurons that exhibit stimulus-specific adaptation (SSA) decrease their response to common tones while retaining responsiveness to rare ones. We recorded single-unit responses from the inferior colliculus (IC) where SSA is known to occur and we explored for the first time SSA in the cochlear nucleus (CN) of rats. We assessed an important functional outcome of SSA, the extent to which frequency discriminability depends on sensory context. For this purpose, pure tones were presented in an oddball sequence as standard (high probability of occurrence) or deviant (low probability of occurrence) stimuli. To study frequency discriminability under different probability contexts, we varied the probability of occurrence and the frequency separation between tones. The neuronal sensitivity was estimated in terms of spike-count probability using signal detection theory. We reproduced the finding that many neurons in the IC exhibited SSA, but we did not observe significant SSA in our CN sample. We concluded that strong SSA is not a ubiquitous phenomenon in the CN. As predicted, frequency discriminability was enhanced in IC when stimuli were presented in an oddball context, and this enhancement was correlated with the degree of SSA shown by the neurons. In contrast, frequency discrimination by CN neurons was independent of stimulus context. Our results demonstrated that SSA is not widespread along the entire auditory pathway, and suggest that SSA increases frequency discriminability of single neurons beyond that expected from their tuning curves.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Type I and type II errors, Action potential, Auditory system, Detection theory, Lateral lemniscus, Cochlear nuclei, Inferior colliculus