Noise exposure alters long-term neural firing rates and synchrony in primary auditory and rostral belt cortices following bimodal stimulation

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We previously demonstrated that bimodal stimulation (spinal trigeminal nucleus [Sp5] paired with best frequency tone) altered neural tone-evoked and spontaneous firing rates (SFRs) in primary auditory cortex (A1) 15 min after pairing in guinea pigs with and without noise-induced tinnitus. Neural responses were enhanced (+10 ms) or suppressed (0 ms) based on the bimodal pairing interval. Here we investigated whether bimodal stimulation leads to long-term (up to 2 h) changes in tone-evoked and SFRs and neural synchrony (correlate of tinnitus) and if the long-term bimodal effects are altered following noise exposure. To obviate the effects of permanent hearing loss on the results, firing rates and neural synchrony were measured three weeks following unilateral (left ear) noise exposure and a temporary threshold shift. Simultaneous extra-cellular single-unit recordings were made from contralateral (to noise) A1 and dorsal rostral belt (RB); an associative auditory cortical region thought to influence A1, before and after bimodal stimulation (pairing intervals of 0 ms; simultaneous Sp5-tone and +10 ms; Sp5 precedes tone). Sixty and 120 min after 0 ms pairing tone-evoked and SFRs were suppressed in sham A1; an effect only preserved 120 min following pairing in noise. Stimulation at +10 ms only affected SFRs 120 min after pairing in sham and noise-exposed A1. Within sham RB, pairing at 0 and +10 ms persistently suppressed tone-evoked and SFRs, while 0 ms pairing in noise markedly enhanced tone-evoked and SFRs up to 2 h. Together, these findings suggest that bimodal stimulation has long-lasting effects in A1 that also extend to the associative RB that is altered by noise and may have persistent implications for how noise damaged brains process multi-sensory information. Moreover, prior to bimodal stimulation, noise damage increased neural synchrony in A1, RB and between A1 and RB neurons. Bimodal stimulation led to persistent changes in neural synchrony in intact A1 and RB that were also altered by noise-exposure. Given that increases in neural synchrony following noise may be consistent with tinnitus onset, these data implicate that both A1 and RB may be involved in the etiology of phantom sound perception. These data also suggest that noise alters the effects of bimodal stimulation on neural synchrony in A1 and RB; an effect that may also lead to changes in tinnitus perception.HIGHLIGHTSBimodal stimulation leads to persistent changes in A1 and RB neural firing.Persistent bimodal-induced changes are altered following noise in A1 and RB.Effects of bimodal stimulation extend outside of primary auditory regions to RB.Persistent changes in SFR and synchrony may contribute to central tinnitus.

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