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Local improvement in auditory frequency discrimination is associated with hearing-loss slope in subjects with cochlear damage

Local improvement in auditory frequency discrimination is associated with hearing-loss slope in subjects with cochlear damage

Brain 125(Pt 3): 524-537

Earlier data in the literature have shown local improvements in frequency discrimination performance near the cut-off frequency of steeply sloping, high-frequency hearing loss in subjects with cochlear damage. The general objective of the present study was to characterize further the relationships between this effect and various audiometric variables: namely, the slope, extent and shape of the hearing loss. In particular, we were interested in determining whether the effect was present in subjects with more moderately sloping hearing loss and/or other patterns of loss. Frequency difference limens (DLFs) were measured in 20 subjects (eight female, 12 male, median age 55.5 years) with high-frequency hearing loss. At least 12 frequencies were tested at intervals of 1/8 octave over a range of 1.5 octaves around the cut-off frequency for hearing loss (Fc). The Fc corresponded to the audiogram edge frequency and was defined as the highest test frequency, at the beginning of the slope, with a hearing threshold of no more than 5 dB HL above that of the best hearing frequency. The level of the test tones was randomized over a range of 6 dB around a nominal level, following an equal-loudness contour curve measured at 1/2-octave intervals. Results showed that DLFs were significantly smaller in a frequency band 1/4 octave wide centred on Fc than in the other bands. Furthermore, the average DLF measured in this band proved to be negatively correlated with the slope of hearing loss. No such significant relationship was found with the other audiometric indices considered, namely, the extent and maximum amount of hearing loss and the log-transformed cut-off frequency. The 20 subjects were divided into three groups according to the slope of their hearing loss relative to Fc (steep, >25 dB/1/2 octave; medium, between 12 and 25 dB/1/2 octave; and shallow, <12 dB/1/2 octave). A local improvement in DLF around Fc was observed in the steep- and medium-slope groups and was confirmed statistically in the steep-slope group. Similar measurements in subjects with low-frequency or notched hearing loss allowed us to establish the presence of similar local improvements in DLFs around audiogram edges. These results, which suggest the slope of the hearing loss to be the most important factor for the occurrence of local DLF improvements, are consistent with both an interpretation in terms of peripheral mechanisms and one in terms of central mechanisms, i.e. injury-induced neural reorganization.

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Accession: 010930253

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PMID: 11872610

DOI: 10.1093/brain/awf044

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