Age-related changes in the guinea pig auditory cortex: relationship with brainstem changes and comparison with tone-induced hearing loss

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Abstract

Elderly people often show degraded hearing performance and have difficulties in understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments. Although loss in peripheral hearing sensitivity is an important factor in explaining these low performances, central alterations also have an impact but their exact contributions remained unclear. In this study, we focus on the functional effects of aging on auditory cortex responses. Neuronal discharges and local field potentials were recorded in the auditory cortex of aged guinea pigs (> 3 years), and several parameters characterizing the processing of auditory information were quantified: the acoustic thresholds, response strength, latency and duration of the response, and breadth of tuning. Several of these parameters were also quantified from auditory brainstem responses collected from the same animals, and recordings obtained from a population of animals with trauma-induced hearing loss were also included in this study. The results showed that aging and acoustic trauma reduced the response strength at both brainstem and cortical levels, and increased the response latencies more at the cortical level than at the brainstem level. In addition to the brainstem hearing loss, aging induced a ‘cortical hearing loss’ as judged by additive changes in the threshold and frequency response seen in the cortex. It also increased the duration of neural responses and reduced the receptive field bandwidth, effects that were not found in traumatized animals. These effects substantiate the notion that presbycusis involves both peripheral hearing loss and biological aging in the central auditory system.

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