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Behav Brain Res. 2011 May 16;219(1):68-74. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.12.015. Epub 2010 Dec 15.

Discrimination of brief speech sounds is impaired in rats with auditory cortex lesions.

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The University of Texas at Dallas, School of Behavioral Brain Sciences, 800 West Campbell Road, GR41, Richardson, TX 75080-3021, United States.


Auditory cortex (AC) lesions impair complex sound discrimination. However, a recent study demonstrated spared performance on an acoustic startle response test of speech discrimination following AC lesions (Floody et al., 2010). The current study reports the effects of AC lesions on two operant speech discrimination tasks. AC lesions caused a modest and quickly recovered impairment in the ability of rats to discriminate consonant-vowel-consonant speech sounds. This result seems to suggest that AC does not play a role in speech discrimination. However, the speech sounds used in both studies differed in many acoustic dimensions and an adaptive change in discrimination strategy could allow the rats to use an acoustic difference that does not require an intact AC to discriminate. Based on our earlier observation that the first 40 ms of the spatiotemporal activity patterns elicited by speech sounds best correlate with behavioral discriminations of these sounds (Engineer et al., 2008), we predicted that eliminating additional cues by truncating speech sounds to the first 40 ms would render the stimuli indistinguishable to a rat with AC lesions. Although the initial discrimination of truncated sounds took longer to learn, the final performance paralleled rats using full-length consonant-vowel-consonant sounds. After 20 days of testing, half of the rats using speech onsets received bilateral AC lesions. Lesions severely impaired speech onset discrimination for at least one-month post lesion. These results support the hypothesis that auditory cortex is required to accurately discriminate the subtle differences between similar consonant and vowel sounds.

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