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Hearing with Two Ears: Evidence for Cortical Binaural Interaction during Auditory Processing
06 August 2020 (online)
Background: Integration of information presented to the two ears has been shown to manifest in binaural interaction components (BICs) that occur along the ascending auditory pathways. In humans, BICs have been studied predominantly at the brainstem and thalamocortical levels; however, understanding of higher cortically driven mechanisms of binaural hearing is limited.
Purpose: To explore whether BICs are evident in auditory event-related potentials (AERPs) during the advanced perceptual and postperceptual stages of cortical processing.
Research Design: The AERPs N1, P3, and a late negative component (LNC) were recorded from multiple site electrodes while participants performed an oddball discrimination task that consisted of natural speech syllables (/ka/ vs. /ta/) that differed by place-of-articulation. Participants were instructed to respond to the target stimulus (/ta/) while performing the task in three listening conditions: monaural right, monaural left, and binaural.
Study Sample: Fifteen (21–32 yr) young adults (6 females) with normal hearing sensitivity.
Data Collection and Analysis: By subtracting the response to target stimuli elicited in the binaural condition from the sum of responses elicited in the monaural right and left conditions, the BIC waveform was derived and the latencies and amplitudes of the components were measured. The maximal interaction was calculated by dividing BIC amplitude by the summed right and left response amplitudes. In addition, the latencies and amplitudes of the AERPs to target stimuli elicited in the monaural right, monaural left, and binaural listening conditions were measured and subjected to analysis of variance with repeated measures testing the effect of listening condition and laterality.
Results: Three consecutive BICs were identified at a mean latency of 129, 406, and 554 msec, and were labeled N1-BIC, P3-BIC, and LNC-BIC, respectively. Maximal interaction increased significantly with progression of auditory processing from perceptual to postperceptual stages and amounted to 51%, 55%, and 75% of the sum of monaural responses for N1-BIC, P3-BIC, and LNC-BIC, respectively. Binaural interaction manifested in a decrease of the binaural response compared to the sum of monaural responses. Furthermore, listening condition affected P3 latency only, whereas laterality effects manifested in enhanced N1 amplitudes at the left (T3) vs. right (T4) scalp electrode and in a greater left–right amplitude difference in the right compared to left listening condition.
Conclusions: The current AERP data provides evidence for the occurrence of cortical BICs during perceptual and postperceptual stages, presumably reflecting ongoing integration of information presented to the two ears at the final stages of auditory processing. Increasing binaural interaction with the progression of the auditory processing sequence (N1 to LNC) may support the notion that cortical BICs reflect inherited interactions from preceding stages of upstream processing together with discrete cortical neural activity involved in binaural processing. Clinically, an objective measure of cortical binaural processing has the potential of becoming an appealing neural correlate of binaural behavioral performance.