A novel approach to investigate subcortical and cortical sensitivity to temporal structure simultaneously
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© 2020 Hearing loss is associated with changes at the peripheral, subcortical, and cortical auditory stages. Research often focuses on these stages in isolation, but peripheral damage has cascading effects on central processing, and different stages are interconnected through extensive feedforward and feedback projections. Accordingly, assessment of the entire auditory system is needed to understand auditory pathology. Using a novel stimulus paired with electroencephalography in young, normal-hearing adults, we assess neural function at multiple stages of the auditory pathway simultaneously. We employ click trains that repeatedly accelerate then decelerate (3.5 Hz click-rate-modulation) introducing varying inter-click-intervals (4 to 40 ms). We measured the amplitude of cortical potentials, and the latencies and amplitudes of Waves III and V of the auditory brainstem response (ABR), to clicks as a function of preceding inter-click-interval. This allowed us to assess cortical processing of click-rate-modulation, as well as adaptation and neural recovery time in subcortical structures (probably cochlear nuclei and inferior colliculi). Subcortical adaptation to inter-click intervals was reflected in longer latencies. Cortical responses to the 3.5 Hz modulation included phase-locking, probably originating from auditory cortex, and sustained activity likely originating from higher-level cortices. We did not observe any correlations between subcortical and cortical responses. By recording neural responses from different stages of the auditory system simultaneously, we can study functional relationships among levels of the auditory system, which may provide a new and helpful window on hearing and hearing impairment.