Neural correlates of auditory perception and the underlying computation

Lead Research Organisation: MRC Institute of Hearing Research

Abstract

The organisation and interpretation of the neural activity generated when we hear sounds is termed central auditory processing. We aim to understand the way in which sounds are represented in neuron’s firing in the brain: the ‘computations on sound’ performed by the brain and how the way we percieve sounds depends upon it. We do this with a combination of methods: measuring behaviour in response to sound, measuring directly the activity in neurons that process sound, and simulating on computers both how we percience sound and how neurons in the brain process it. For example, we are currently working how how neurons in the auditory system affect our ability to detect quiet signals in the presence of other sounds.

These experiments complement other research designed to gain knowledge about normal and abnormal auditory processing in people and the development of therapeutic strategies for brain- and ear-based hearing disorders. Research on hearing in animals has led directly to the development of digital hearing aids and cochlear implants. However, in terms of quality of life the biggest impact of hearing impairment is on the ability to perceive sounds in noisy environments. Modern hearing aids and cochlear implants still do not help much with this, probably because we do not understand how people with normal hearing function in these situations. A deeper understanding of the mechanisms of auditory perception will improve the treatment of auditory related health problems.

Technical Summary

The aim of this research group is to understand the way in which sound is processed by neural circuitry in the brain, and how it underpins auditory perception. We do this through the integration of physiological, behavioural and computational techniques. This work is essential if we are to properly understand how we hear; for example, how we are able to perceive distinct sound sources in complex listening environments, and how neural processing is affected by hearing impairments.

Basic research into hearing has traditionally been dominated by two distinct branches: psychoacoustics measures subjects' ability to detect and discriminate sounds by, for example, pressing buttons; auditory neuroscience studies the response of neurons to sound.These separate approaches have led to considerable advances in treating hearing disorders. However, it was always difficult to relate these two types of measurement.Part of our goal is to better relate perception to neural coding, by studying them together in integrated experiments. For example, by recording directly from neurons in the auditory brain during active listening. We are currently attempting to understand the relationships between the frequency resolution of hearing measured perceptually, in the cochlea, and at different nuclei in the central auditory system. Other recent work includes investigating cortical correlates of the way we perceptually group sequences sound sounds, or the way a loud sound renders a quiet sound following it undetectable. These techniques can also be used to study the effects of deficits in hearing, and even changes following implantation of hearing prostheses. How do we adapt to a loss of hearing, or to the change in auditory inputs when we receive a cochlea implant?

The other goal of this research is to understand the underlying computations that lead to the neural representations of sound. We do this through theoretical and computational models of auditory processing. We simulate, in computer programmes, neurons' responses to sound in order to generate and test theories about underlying mechanisms, and also use them to predict as yet untested properties of neurons. For example, it has long been known that the timing of spikes is important in auditory coding – neurons tend to fire precisely in time to specific features in a sound. However, we have recently shown that neurons in the auditory brainstem encode the stimulus with much more complex temporal patterns of spikes – and furthermore were able to relate these back to the mathematics of non-linear oscillators, and show how simple computer models of neurons replicate these complex behaviours.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description ARO travel award (Sollini, ARO 2010)
Amount £500 (GBP)
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2009 
End 02/2009
 
Description ARO travel award (Steadman 2014).
Amount £750 (GBP)
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2014 
End 02/2014
 
Description ARO travel grant
Amount $500 (USD)
Organisation Association for Research into Otolaryngology 
Sector Learned Society
Country United States
Start 02/2018 
End 02/2018
 
Description Adam Hockley - Action on Hearing Loss ARO Travel Grant
Amount £800 (GBP)
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 02/2018
 
Description Adam Hockley - Action on Hearing Loss ARO Travel Grant to Sam Smith
Amount £800 (GBP)
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 02/2018
 
Description CIAP travel award (Horne, 2013)
Amount £750 (GBP)
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2013 
End 06/2013
 
Description Capital equipment bid for electrophysiological equipment.
Amount £69,009 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2013 
End 04/2014
 
Description Deafness Research UK Small Grants Scheme
Amount £13,120 (GBP)
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2012 
End 01/2012
 
Description Graduate School Travel Prize (Sollini, ARO 2009)
Amount £300 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2009 
End 02/2009
 
Description Guarantors of Brain Travel Award
Amount £800 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 11/2015
 
Description Guarantors of Brain Travel Award
Amount £800 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 11/2016
 
Description MRC Centenary Award Scheme (Scholes, 2012/13).
Amount £26,545 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2012 
End 09/2013
 
Description Marie Curie Early Career Training Network (Neural Engineering Transformative Technologies)
Amount € 150,000 (EUR)
Organisation Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions 
Sector Academic/University
Country Global
Start  
 
Description Marie Curie Studentship/Marie Curie Foundation
Amount £118,200 (GBP)
Organisation Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions 
Sector Academic/University
Country Global
Start 09/2006 
End 09/2009
 
Description Travel Award (David Merry, SfN 2015)
Amount £750 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2015 
End 11/2015
 
Description Travel award (Horne 2013)
Amount £500 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2013 
End 06/2013
 
Description Travel award (Oscar Woolnough, SfN 2015)
Amount £750 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2015 
End 11/2015
 
Description Travel award (Sollini 2009)
Amount £600 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2009 
End 09/2009
 
Description Travel award (Steadman, ARO 2012)
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Department School of Biomedical Sciences Nottingham
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2011 
End 02/2012
 
Description Travel award (Wells, ARO 2012).
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Nottingham 
Department School of Biomedical Sciences Nottingham
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2011 
End 02/2012
 
Description Travel grant (Alves-Pinto; ARO 2010)
Amount £600 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2010 
End 03/2010
 
Description Travel grant (Alves-Pinto; ARO 2011)
Amount £600 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 02/2011
 
Description Travel grant (Alves-Pinto; ARO 2011)
Amount £500 (GBP)
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 02/2011
 
Description Travel grant (Scholes, SfN 2012).
Amount £800 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2012 
End 10/2012
 
Description Travel grant (Wells, SfN 2012).
Amount £750 (GBP)
Organisation Guarantors of Brain 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2012 
End 10/2012
 
Description Artificial recognition of sounds in complex scenes from auditory neuronal activity 
Organisation Athens Institute of Technology
Country Greece 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have conceived the project and will have overall project management.
Collaborator Contribution My colleague in Mathematics at the University of Nottingham obtained the funding. My colleague at Athens Institute of Technology will be providing expertise in signal processing and pattern recognition.
Impact This project is funded by a Marie Curie PhD studentship. We have recruited a PhD student, who began their PhD in October 2013.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Artificial recognition of sounds in complex scenes from auditory neuronal activity 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Department School of Mathematical Sciences Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have conceived the project and will have overall project management.
Collaborator Contribution My colleague in Mathematics at the University of Nottingham obtained the funding. My colleague at Athens Institute of Technology will be providing expertise in signal processing and pattern recognition.
Impact This project is funded by a Marie Curie PhD studentship. We have recruited a PhD student, who began their PhD in October 2013.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Audiovisual integration of speech with Cochlear Implants 
Organisation National Institute for Health Research
Department Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I contribute towards the experimental goals, design and support the project technically with signal processing and programming. I also contribute to the analysis of data and article writing.
Collaborator Contribution Colleagues at NHBRU contribute intellectually, writing and programming support. Colleagues at Nottingham Trent University have overall control of the project, setting goals, collecting data and writing.
Impact Our first article of the project has now been published in a peer reviewed journal. This work has been presented at several conferences.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Audiovisual integration of speech with Cochlear Implants 
Organisation Nottingham Trent University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I contribute towards the experimental goals, design and support the project technically with signal processing and programming. I also contribute to the analysis of data and article writing.
Collaborator Contribution Colleagues at NHBRU contribute intellectually, writing and programming support. Colleagues at Nottingham Trent University have overall control of the project, setting goals, collecting data and writing.
Impact Our first article of the project has now been published in a peer reviewed journal. This work has been presented at several conferences.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Computational modelling of Cochlear Implant electrical stimulation 
Organisation Technical University of Munich
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have and supervise a PhD student, and my collaborator contributes to the supervision.
Collaborator Contribution Intellectual input and critique. Assistance writing papers.
Impact The student has presented his work at multiple international conferences.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Mode-locking throughout the cochlear nucleus 
Organisation Action on Hearing Loss
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I wrote a grant to DRUK, which was funded (see above). I am the principal grant holder, and lead this research. The post-doc working on this project got a MRC Centenary award to continue related work on another project.
Collaborator Contribution They have made intellectual contributions, and helped to write the grant.They have contributed data.
Impact Deafness Research UK Small Grant award. This project is multi-disciplinary, involving auditory neuroscientists and mathematicians. MRC Centenary award to further fund the post-doc on another project.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Mode-locking throughout the cochlear nucleus 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Department School of Mathematics Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I wrote a grant to DRUK, which was funded (see above). I am the principal grant holder, and lead this research. The post-doc working on this project got a MRC Centenary award to continue related work on another project.
Collaborator Contribution They have made intellectual contributions, and helped to write the grant.They have contributed data.
Impact Deafness Research UK Small Grant award. This project is multi-disciplinary, involving auditory neuroscientists and mathematicians. MRC Centenary award to further fund the post-doc on another project.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Mode-locking throughout the cochlear nucleus 
Organisation University of Wisconsin-Madison
Department Department of Physiology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I wrote a grant to DRUK, which was funded (see above). I am the principal grant holder, and lead this research. The post-doc working on this project got a MRC Centenary award to continue related work on another project.
Collaborator Contribution They have made intellectual contributions, and helped to write the grant.They have contributed data.
Impact Deafness Research UK Small Grant award. This project is multi-disciplinary, involving auditory neuroscientists and mathematicians. MRC Centenary award to further fund the post-doc on another project.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Models of auditory processing 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Department School of Mathematics Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Supervision of a PhD student, with successful graduation, some support resource, data active participation in the research process.
Collaborator Contribution Joint supervision of a PhD student and successful graduation, contributions to publications, active participation in the research process.
Impact The student successfully completed his thesis. Three publications (one still in press) have resulted from this collaboration. We are now beginning to work together with a second student. This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between physiologists and mathematicians.
Start Year 2006
 
Description Reconciling different measures of frequency selectivity 
Organisation University of Minnesota
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have collected data.
Collaborator Contribution They have provided expertise to help collect the data, and intellectual support.
Impact This project has resulted in a podium presentation at an international conference, and a paper is in preparation. This work is multidisciplinary, involving expertise in physiology, otoacoustic emissions and psychophysics/animal behaviour.
Start Year 2010
 
Description The role of mode-locking in the brainstem in musical harmony and dissonance 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Department School of Mathematical Sciences Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have conceived the project and am managing the work. I obtained the funding. My research team is conducting the work.
Collaborator Contribution My colleague is a project partner and providing guidance and intellectual input.
Impact The project started this year and so is in the early stages. The main output thus far has been the obtaining of funding: we applied for and were successful in obtaining an MRC centenary award to fund a postdoc for a year to conduct this work.
Start Year 2012
 
Title Ferret recording backpack 
Description A device to allow recording from implanted electrodes in the brain, whilst animals are moving around freely. 
IP Reference  
Protection Protection not required
Year Protection Granted 2010
Licensed Yes
Impact We have shared the technical details with the Bionic Ear Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. They have signed a Material Transfer Agreement (drawn up by MRCT).
 
Description AoHL/BBSRC Hightlight Notice workshop. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact (Dec 13). Workshop of charity, state funding, clinicians and academics to discuss important questions in the field.

-
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Big Bang 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We represented the MRC at the 'Big Bang' exhibition at Birmingham NEC. We put on a show of interactive demonstrations and games instructing the public into the nature of hearing, hearing loss and cochlear implants. Countless visitors to our stand over 3 days.

Further development of our 'road show' which can be taken anywhere.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description British Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Many members of the public and school pupils visited our stand and interactive demos. There was considerable interest, and discussions on many levels. We successfully contributed to public awareness and understanding of our field.

Invited to participate in the MRC Exhibit at the next 'Big Bang'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Centrally Heated Knickers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I have acted as a consultant to the creators of a childrens stage show centred around science, sound and hearing.

Not yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Institute of Acoustics National meeting (2013) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Instiute of Acoustics is the main organisation for professional (e.g. consultant) and academic acousticians in the UK. At their national annual conference, IHR presented two talks, we put up a large display, and we later took interested delegates back to IHR to show them around, show demos, and discussions about hearing and sound.

This continues to maintain our professional collegiate relationship with a related professional and research field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description IntoUniversity 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Local children visited us and our roadshow at a University Community centre in the heart of Nottingham.

-
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description MRC Centenary celebrations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We took our roadshow to thew public, shopping on a Friday and Saturday. We set up at a prominent location in a large shopping centre in the city and engaged passing members of the public in discussion about hearing, and our research.

This is difficult to measure. We talked to many people, educated them and in many instances talked to them about their hearing problems. We hope that numerous people sought medical advice after talking to us.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description May Fest 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We set up our 'roadshow' at the University of Nottingham May Fest, and amny memmbers of the public came and visited our stands to learn about our science.

Improved contacts with University of Nottingham public engagement teams
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Mayfest 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We set up our 'roadshow' at the University of Nottingham May Fest, and many members of the public came and visited our stands to learn about our science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Neuroscience@Nottingham (2013) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Several hundred members of the general public attended an afternoon of scientific activities and talks all about neuroscience research, and particularly that carried out at the University of Nottingham. The headline talk was by Colin Blakemore. We brought along out 'roadshow' with interactive games and demos, and demonstrated and talked with the public.

We were able to contribute to the presence of neuroscience in Nottingham and in the East Midlands. This is an important part of our role in the University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Science in the Park (Wollaton Park 2012) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We took our road show to the 'Science in the Park' event - a large open interactive event for school kids and the public. Attended by several hundred people.

Contribution to regional education and presence of science in the community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Science in the Park 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We took our road show to the 'Science in the Park' event - a large open interactive event for school kids and the public. Attended by several hundred people.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://nottsbsa.org/science-in-the-park-2016/
 
Description Talk at the regional meeting Institute of Acoustics 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An invited talk for the local Institute of Acoustics, who visited our Institute. Around 20 professionals from the East Midlands area attended.

Development of excellent relationship with regional acoustics professionals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012