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Scientists closer to grasping how the brain's 'hearing center' spurs responses to sound
Date:10/18/2010

Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. Just as we visually map a room by spatially identifying the objects in it, we map our aural world based on the frequencies of sounds. The neurons within the brain's "hearing center"the auditory cortexare organized into modules that each respond to sounds within a specific frequency band. But how responses actually emanate from this complex network of neurons is still a mystery.

A team of scientists led by Anthony Zador, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Neuroscience program at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has come a step closer to unraveling this puzzle. The scientists probed how the functional connectivity among neurons within the auditory cortex gives rise to a "map" of acoustic space.

"What we learned from this approach has put us in a position to investigate and understand how sound responsiveness arises from the underlying circuitry of the auditory cortex," says Zador. His team's findings appear online, ahead of print, on October 17th in Nature Neuroscience.

Neuronal organization within the auditory cortex fundamentally differs from the organization within brain regions that process sensory inputs such as sight and sensation. For instance, the relative spatial arrangement of sight receptors in the retina (the eyes' light-sensitive inner surface) is directly represented as a two-dimensional "retinotopic" map in the brain's visual cortex.

In the auditory system, however, the organization of sound receptors in the cochlea the snail-like structure in the ear is one-dimensional. Cochlear receptors near the outer edge recognize low-frequency sounds whereas those whereas those near the inside of the cochlea are tuned to higher frequencies. This low-to-high distribution, called 'tonotopy,' is preserved along one dimension in the auditory cortex, with neurons tuned to high and low frequencies arranged in a head-to-tail gradient.

"Because sound is intrinsically a one-dim
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Contact: Hema Bashyam
bashyam@cshl.edu
516-367-6822
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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