Attention improves population-level frequency tuning in human auditory cortex

Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosignalanalysis, University Hospital, University of Muenster, 48149 Muenster, Germany.
The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 6.75). 10/2007; 27(39):10383-90. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2963-07.2007
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Attention improves auditory performance in noisy environments by either enhancing the processing of task-relevant stimuli ("gain"), suppressing task-irrelevant information ("sharpening"), or both. In the present study, we investigated the effect of focused auditory attention on the population-level frequency tuning in human auditory cortex by means of magnetoencephalography. Using complex stimuli consisting of a test tone superimposed on different band-eliminated noises during active listening or distracted listening conditions, we observed that focused auditory attention caused not only gain, but also sharpening of frequency tuning in human auditory cortex as reflected by the N1m auditory evoked response. This combination of gain and sharpening in the auditory cortex may contribute to better auditory performance during focused auditory attention.

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    • "Although executive function begins to develop in early childhood (Marcovitch and Zelazo, 2009; Zelazo et al., 2003), recent evidence from Bialystok (2006, 2011), Bialystok et al. (2008, 2009) suggests that the experiences generated by bilingualism have a positive effect on linguistic and cognitive processing. Our results support the notion that experience with non-native speech improves other aspects of cognitive processing as the recruitment of executive brain regions in older bilingual children is an alternative way to manipulate perceptual information (Archila-Suerte et al., 2011; Okamoto et al., 2007; Tallal and Gaab, 2006). An area of future study is the continued development of non-native speech perception in adolescent bilinguals who have been exposed to the second language sequentially. "
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    ABSTRACT: The goal of the present study is to reveal how the neural mechanisms underlying non-native speech perception change throughout childhood. In a pre-attentive listening fMRI task, English monolingual and Spanish-English bilingual children - divided into groups of younger (6-8yrs) and older children (9-10yrs) - were asked to watch a silent movie while several English syllable combinations played through a pair of headphones. Two additional groups of monolingual and bilingual adults were included in the analyses. Our results show that the neural mechanisms supporting speech perception throughout development differ in monolinguals and bilinguals. While monolinguals recruit perceptual areas (i.e., superior temporal gyrus) in early and late childhood to process native speech, bilinguals recruit perceptual areas (i.e., superior temporal gyrus) in early childhood and higher-order executive areas in late childhood (i.e., bilateral middle frontal gyrus and bilateral inferior parietal lobule, among others) to process non-native speech. The findings support the Perceptual Assimilation Model and the Speech Learning Model and suggest that the neural system processes phonological information differently depending on the stage of L2 speech learning.
    NeuroImage 11/2012; 67. DOI:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.10.023 · 6.36 Impact Factor
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    • "BEN, band-eliminated noise. Reproduced with permission from Okamoto et al., 2007. "
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    ABSTRACT: Although it has been known for decades that the drug nicotine can improve cognitive function, the nature of its effects and the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Nicotine activates nicotinic acetylcholine (ACh) receptors (nAChRs) that normally are activated by endogenous ACh, presumably "hijacking" the cholinergic contribution to multiple cognitive functions, notably attention. Thus, studying nicotine's effects helps to better understand a commonly used drug as well as functions of nAChRs. Moreover, nicotinic agonists are being developed to treat a variety of disorders that involve attention-related or age-related cognitive dysfunction. Studies have shown that nicotine can enhance processing of attended stimuli and/or reduce processing of distracters; that is, nicotine enhances attentional filtering. To examine potential mechanisms within sensory cortex that may contribute to cognitive functions, here we describe nicotinic actions in primary auditory cortex, where well-characterized neural "filters"-frequency receptive fields-can be exploited to examine nicotinic regulation of cortical processing. Using tone-evoked current-source density (CSD) profiles, we show that nicotine produces complex, layer-dependent effects on spectral and temporal processing that, broadly speaking, enhance responses to characteristic frequency (optimal) stimuli while simultaneously suppressing responses to spectrally distant stimuli. That is, nicotine appears to narrow receptive fields and enhances processing within the narrowed receptive field. Since basic cortical circuitry and nAChR distributions are similar across neocortex, these findings may generalize to neural processing in other sensory regions, and to non-sensory regions where afferent inputs are more difficult to manipulate experimentally. Similar effects across sensory and non-sensory cortical circuits could contribute to nicotinic enhancement of cognitive functions.
    Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 07/2012; 6:44. DOI:10.3389/fnbeh.2012.00044 · 4.16 Impact Factor
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    • "To investigate the effects of attention, we contrasted two different attentional conditions: active listening and distracted listening. The results indicated that the population-level frequency tuning became sharper when attention was directed to the auditory domain (Okamoto et al., 2007b "
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    ABSTRACT: Over the past 15 years, we have studied plasticity in the human auditory cortex by means of magnetoencephalography (MEG). Two main topics nurtured our curiosity: the effects of musical training on plasticity in the auditory system, and the effects of lateral inhibition. One of our plasticity studies found that listening to notched music for three hours inhibited the neuronal activity in the auditory cortex that corresponded to the center-frequency of the notch, suggesting suppression of neural activity by lateral inhibition. Crucially, the overall effects of lateral inhibition on human auditory cortical activity were stronger than the habituation effects. Based on these results we developed a novel treatment strategy for tonal tinnitus - tailor-made notched music training (TMNMT). By notching the music energy spectrum around the individual tinnitus frequency, we intended to attract lateral inhibition to auditory neurons involved in tinnitus perception. So far, the training strategy has been evaluated in two studies. The results of the initial long-term controlled study (12 months) supported the validity of the treatment concept: subjective tinnitus loudness and annoyance were significantly reduced after TMNMT but not when notching spared the tinnitus frequencies. Correspondingly, tinnitus-related auditory evoked fields (AEFs) were significantly reduced after training. The subsequent short-term (5 days) training study indicated that training was more effective in the case of tinnitus frequencies ≤ 8 kHz compared to tinnitus frequencies > 8 kHz, and that training should be employed over a long-term in order to induce more persistent effects. Further development and evaluation of TMNMT therapy are planned. A goal is to transfer this novel, completely non-invasive, and low-cost treatment approach for tonal tinnitus into routine clinical practice.
    Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 06/2012; 6:50. DOI:10.3389/fnsys.2012.00050
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