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Seeing the brain hear reveals surprises about how sound is processed
Date:2/1/2010

observed in neighboring neurons. Dr. Kanold, who is an expert in neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize neural pathways, believes that there is a tremendous advantage in this apparent disorder. "Each individual neuron is getting inputs from a wide range of frequencies, and by selecting which frequencies they are strongly responding to, they might be very easily able to shift their function," he says. For example, it is well known that we can quickly listen in on a variety of conversations around us, the so-called "cocktail party effect." It may be that neurons having access to a large range of inputs might be able to quickly change which inputs they are responding to.

This suggests that there is very little redundancy in the function of cells in the auditory cortex, which differs notably from the visual cortex, in which neighboring neurons perform the same function as one another. This could be because our acoustic environment, such as the speech we hear, changes much faster than our visual environment, so we have to constantly adapt to new situations.

Kanold continues to study the mechanisms of brain circuitry involved in early development to gain a better understanding of why we can learn so well in early development but lose some of this ability as we age. For example, why can children easily learn new languages, while adults often struggle? Kanold's work has been focusing on identifying circuits in the young brain that mediate this remarkable ability. He is also working to apply his knowledge of developmental brain circuitry to the prevention and treatment of diseases such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy, which can be caused by early brain injuries. With his collaborator Shihab Shamma, who is studying adult mechanisms of plasticity and hearing, he is exploring how brain circuitry and learning changes over time.


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Contact: Kelly Blake
kellyb@umd.edu
301-405-8203
University of Maryland
Source:Eurekalert  

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