Brain Cells May Press ‘Pause’ When Hearing Brain cells may be able to “wait” to determine what we hear, according to new research on gerbils at the Laboratory for Auditory Neurophysiology in Leuven, Belgium. Human ears locate sounds in space by accounting for differences in intensity and timing between signals that reach our two ears. Cells in ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   June 01, 2015
Brain Cells May Press ‘Pause’ When Hearing
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Hearing & Speech Perception / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   June 01, 2015
Brain Cells May Press ‘Pause’ When Hearing
The ASHA Leader, June 2015, Vol. 20, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.20062015.16
The ASHA Leader, June 2015, Vol. 20, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.20062015.16
Brain cells may be able to “wait” to determine what we hear, according to new research on gerbils at the Laboratory for Auditory Neurophysiology in Leuven, Belgium.
Human ears locate sounds in space by accounting for differences in intensity and timing between signals that reach our two ears. Cells in the brainstem, which receive electrical pulses from the auditory nerve when the cochlea hears sound, are “hyper-specialized” to respond to certain time differences, according to the lab’s Philip X. Joris, who worked with lead author Tom P. Franken on the study, published in Nature Neuroscience.
“For example, one cell may respond to sounds right in front of us, which reach both ears at the same time, while another cell may respond to sounds to our side, which reach the ears with a time difference of half a millisecond,” Joris says. “Depending on which cell is active, we know where the sound source is in space. But how cells compute this time difference has been a matter of conjecture because it is exceedingly difficult to study these cells in the brainstem.”

If one side receives a signal first, it will “pause” and “wait for the signals coming from the other ear before firing off an electrical pulse.”

Although it was previously thought that signals in one ear would generally slow to accommodate the arrival of signals in the other ear, allowing all the information to arrive at the brainstem at the same time, Franken and his team tested this hypothesis, recording incoming and outgoing signals in brainstem cells with the insertion of a fine electrode.
The researchers found that if one side receives a signal first, it will “pause” and “wait for the signals coming from the other ear before firing off an electrical pulse,” Joris says. “In other words, these cells have a more active role in time comparison than was thought.”
This information could be useful for the future of hearing aid and cochlear implant development, possibly making it easier to identify sound source locations and filter background noise.
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June 2015
Volume 20, Issue 6