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Auditory Brain Stem Response to Complex Sounds: A Tutorial

Skoe, Erika1; Kraus, Nina1,2

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e3181cdb272
Review

This tutorial provides a comprehensive overview of the methodological approach to collecting and analyzing auditory brain stem responses to complex sounds (cABRs). cABRs provide a window into how behaviorally relevant sounds such as speech and music are processed in the brain. Because temporal and spectral characteristics of sounds are preserved in this subcortical response, cABRs can be used to assess specific impairments and enhancements in auditory processing. Notably, subcortical auditory function is neither passive nor hardwired but dynamically interacts with higher-level cognitive processes to refine how sounds are transcribed into neural code. This experience-dependent plasticity, which can occur on a number of time scales (e.g., life-long experience with speech or music, short-term auditory training, on-line auditory processing), helps shape sensory perception. Thus, by being an objective and noninvasive means for examining cognitive function and experience-dependent processes in sensory activity, cABRs have considerable utility in the study of populations where auditory function is of interest (e.g., auditory experts such as musicians, and persons with hearing loss, auditory processing, and language disorders). This tutorial is intended for clinicians and researchers seeking to integrate cABRs into their clinical or research programs.

This tutorial provides a comprehensive overview of the methodological approach to collecting and analyzing auditory brain stem responses to complex sounds (cABRs). cABRs provide a window into how behaviorally relevant sounds such as speech and music are processed in the brain. Because temporal and spectral characteristics of sounds are preserved in this subcortical response, cABRs can be used to assess specific impairments and enhancements in auditory processing. Notably, subcortical function is neither passive nor hardwired but dynamically interacts with higher-level cognitive processes to refine how sounds are transcribed into neural code. This experience-dependent plasticity, which can occur on a number of time scales (e.g., life-long experience with speech or music, short-term auditory training, online auditory processing), helps shape sensory perception. Thus, by being an objective and noninvasive means for examining cognitive function and experience-dependent processes in sensory activity, cABRs have considerable utility in the study of populations where auditory function is of interest (e.g., auditory experts such as musicians, persons with hearing loss, auditory processing and language disorders). This tutorial is intended for clinicians and researchers seeking to integrate cABRs into their clinical and/or research programs.

Departments of 1Communication Sciences and 2Neurobiology and Physiology, Otolaryngology; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text, and links to the digital files are provided in the HTML text of this article on the journal's Web site (www.ear-hearing.com).

This work was supported by NSF 0842376 and NIH R01 DC01510, F32 DC008052.

Co-author Nina Kraus currently serves as consultant to Natus Corp. for BioMARK, a clinical measure of auditory function, and receives royalties through Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

Address for correspondence: Erika Skoe, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208. E-mail: eeskoe@northwestern.edu.

Received June 19, 2009; accepted November 13, 2009.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.