About this Research Topic
The mammalian sound localization pathway, located in the brain stem, is generally a well-characterized neural circuit. This circuit computes the location of a sound in space by analyzing intensity and arrival times of the same sound wave between the two ears, a process that requires high temporal precision.
The same circuit goes beyond sound localization, functioning in acoustically complex situations where multiple sounds are active at the same time, termed “cocktail-party situations”. In complex acoustic situations, mammals, including humans, use their sound localization pathway to divide the acoustic space into a few degree-wide spatial channels, forming the neural basis for isolating the sound of interest. Critical for the circuit's ability to function is that the inputs are precisely timed and balanced.
A novel idea is that this circuit also contributes to a number of medical conditions such as autism, age-related hearing loss, schizophrenia, and ADHD, which are not traditionally associated with the brain stem. The neural substrates for such conditions have been associated either with the sensory surface (E.g. age-related hair cell loss in the inner ear), with much higher brain areas, or even cognitive deficits, such as in autism, schizophrenia, or ADHD.
Recent research suggests that even minor alterations in the timing of the excitatory-inhibitory balance of this circuit can lead to major disruptions in an individual's ability to perform in multi-sound environments. In some cases, alterations in the sound localization pathway, measured for example as alterations in auditory brain-stem responses (ABR), can be used as biomarkers for traditionally "cognitive diseases." For instance, affected individuals have trouble carrying a conversation in a crowded restaurant or public place when background noise is present. The condition is not limited to humans, as animals also perform less well in behavioral tests assessing their sound localization acuity when their sound localization circuit is compromised.
This Research Topic aims to highlight contributions of the auditory brain stem to degraded listening in complex environments and sound-localization related biomarkers for these medical conditions. It will cover both animal and human subject research results. The Research Topic will discuss how alterations in the sound localization pathway and its connections can help explain commonly observed symptoms in conditions such as age-related central hearing loss, autism, Fragile X, schizophrenia, ADHD, developmental deficits, and others.
Keywords: auditory, sound localization, binaural, brain stem, cocktail party
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