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Front Neurosci. 2014 May 23;8:110. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2014.00110. eCollection 2014.

Insult-induced adaptive plasticity of the auditory system.

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Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford Oxford, UK.


The brain displays a remarkable capacity for both widespread and region-specific modifications in response to environmental challenges, with adaptive processes bringing about the reweighing of connections in neural networks putatively required for optimizing performance and behavior. As an avenue for investigation, studies centered around changes in the mammalian auditory system, extending from the brainstem to the cortex, have revealed a plethora of mechanisms that operate in the context of sensory disruption after insult, be it lesion-, noise trauma, drug-, or age-related. Of particular interest in recent work are those aspects of auditory processing which, after sensory disruption, change at multiple-if not all-levels of the auditory hierarchy. These include changes in excitatory, inhibitory and neuromodulatory networks, consistent with theories of homeostatic plasticity; functional alterations in gene expression and in protein levels; as well as broader network processing effects with cognitive and behavioral implications. Nevertheless, there abounds substantial debate regarding which of these processes may only be sequelae of the original insult, and which may, in fact, be maladaptively compelling further degradation of the organism's competence to cope with its disrupted sensory context. In this review, we aim to examine how the mammalian auditory system responds in the wake of particular insults, and to disambiguate how the changes that develop might underlie a correlated class of phantom disorders, including tinnitus and hyperacusis, which putatively are brought about through maladaptive neuroplastic disruptions to auditory networks governing the spatial and temporal processing of acoustic sensory information.


auditory cortex; cochlea; hearing loss; neural plasticity; peripheral insult; tinnitus

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