A sensitive period for the impact of hearing loss on auditory perception

Bradley N. Buran, Emma C. Sarro, Francis A.M. Manno, Ramanjot Kang, Melissa L. Caras, Dan H. Sanes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Manipulations of the sensory environment typically induce greater changes to the developing nervous system than they do in adulthood. The relevance of these neural changes can be evaluated by examining the age-dependent effects of sensory experience on quantitative measures of perception. Here, we measured frequency modulation (FM) detection thresholds in adult gerbils and investigated whether diminished auditory experience during development or in adulthood influenced perceptual performance. Bilateral conductive hearing loss (CHL) of≈30 dB was induced either at postnatal day 10 or after sexual maturation. All animals were then trained as adults to detect a 5 Hz FM embedded in a continuous 4 kHz tone. FM detection thresholds were defined as the minimum deviation from the carrier frequency that the animal could reliably detect. Normal-hearing animals displayed FM thresholds of 25 Hz. Inducing CHL, either in juvenile or adult animals, led to a deficit in FM detection. However, this deficit was greater for juvenile onset hearing loss (89 Hz) relative to adult onset hearing loss (64 Hz). The effects could not be attributed to sensation level, nor were they correlated with proxies for attention. The thresholds displayed by CHL animals were correlated with shallower psychometric function slopes, suggesting that hearing loss was associated with greater variance of the decision variable, consistent with increased internal noise. The results show that decreased auditory experience has a greater impact on perceptual skills when initiated at an early age and raises the possibility that altered development of CNS synapses may play a causative role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2276-2284
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2014


  • Critical period
  • Deafness
  • Frequency discrimination
  • Temporal processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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