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Title: Plasticity and integration of auditory spatial cues
Author: Keating, Peter
ISNI:       0000 0004 2723 5854
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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Although there is extensive evidence that auditory spatial processing can adapt to changes in auditory spatial cues both in infancy and adulthood, the mechanisms underlying adaptation appear to differ across species. Whereas barn owls compensate for unilateral hearing loss throughout development by learning abnormal mappings between cue values and spatial position, adult mammals seem to adapt by ignoring the acoustical input available to the affected ear and learning to rely more on unaltered spatial cues. To investigate these differences further, ferrets were raised with a unilateral earplug and their ability to localize sounds was assessed. Although these animals did not fully compensate for the effects of an earplug, they performed considerably better than animals that experienced an earplug for the first time, indicating that adaptation had taken place. We subsequently found that juvenile-plugged (JP) ferrets learned to adjust both cue mappings and weights in response to changes in acoustical input, with the nature of these changes reflecting the expected reliability of different cues. Thus, the auditory system may be able to rapidly update the way in which individual cues are processed, as well as the way in which different cues are integrated, thereby enabling spatial cues to be processed in a context- specific way. In attempting to understand the mechanisms that guide plasticity of spatial hearing, previous studies have raised the possibility that changes in auditory spatial processing may be driven by mechanisms intrinsic to the auditory system. To address this possibility directly, we measured the sensitivity of human subjects to ITDs and ILDs following transient misalignment of these cues. We found that this induces a short-term recalibration that acts to compensate for the effects of cue misalignment. These changes occurred in the absence of error feedback, suggesting that mutual recalibration can occur between auditory spatial cues. The nature of these changes, however, was consistent with models of cue integration, suggesting that plasticity and integration may be inextricably linked. Throughout the course of this work, it became clear that future investigations would benefit from the application of closed-field techniques to the ferret. For this reason, we developed and validated methods that enable stimuli to be presented to ferrets over earphones, and used these methods to assess ITD and ILD sensitivity in ferrets using a variety of different stimuli. We found that the Duplex theory is able to account for binaural spatial sensitivity in these animals, and that sensitivity is comparable with that found in humans, thereby confirming the ferret as an excellent model for understanding binaural spatial hearing.
Supervisor: King, Andrew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Neurosciences ; Space perception ; Auditory perception