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Publication Detail
Signal processing in auditory cortex underlies degraded speech sound discrimination in noise
  • Publication Type:
    Working discussion paper
  • Authors:
    Town S, Wood K, Bizley J
  • Publication date:
    07/11/2019
  • Status:
    Published
Abstract
The ability to recognize sounds in noise is a key part of hearing, and the mechanisms by which the brain identifies sounds in noise are of considerable interest to scientists, clinicians and engineers. Yet we know little about the necessity of regions such as auditory cortex for hearing in noise, or how cortical processing of sounds is adversely affected by noise. Here we used reversible cortical inactivation and extracellular electrophysiology in ferrets performing a vowel discrimination task to identify and understand the causal contribution of auditory cortex to hearing in noise. Cortical inactivation by cooling impaired task performance in noisy but not clean conditions, while responses of auditory cortical neurons were less informative about vowel identity in noise. Simulations mimicking cortical inactivation indicated that effects of inactivation were related to the loss of information about sounds represented across neural populations. The addition of noise to target sounds drove spiking activity in auditory cortex and recruitment of additional neural populations that were linked to degraded behavioral performance. To suppress noise-related activity, we used continuous exposure to background noise to adapt the auditory system and recover behavioral performance in both ferrets and humans. Inactivation by cooling revealed that the benefits of continuous exposure were not cortically dependent. Together our results highlight the importance of auditory cortex in sound discrimination in noise and the underlying mechanisms through which noise-related activity and adaptation shape hearing.
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