Auditory brain plasticity exhibits a fundamental duality, a yin and yang, in that it is both a source and possible solution for various types of hearing impairment. Following cochlear afferent loss, the balance of excitation and inhibition tips toward hyperexcitability throughout the central auditory neuroaxis, increasing the ‘central gain’ on afferent signals so as to partially compensate for a diminished input from the auditory periphery. When the brain’s internal amplifier it turned up too high, it can distort the neural representation of complex communication sounds, such as speech in noise, and may even induce the perception of phantom sounds, contributing to pathophysiological processes such as hyperacusis and tinnitus. This is the ‘yin’, the dark side of brain plasticity, wherein the transcriptional, physiological and neurochemical changes that compensate for the loss or degradation of peripheral input can incur debilitating perceptual costs. Our research is also committed to understand the ‘yang’ of brain plasticity, how the remarkable malleability of the adult brain can be harnessed and directed towards an adaptive – or even therapeutic – endpoint through pharmacology, direct brain stimulation and non-invasive approaches such as immersive sensory training. Our ultimate interests lie at the intersection of these two sides of brain plasticity; our research is working on new strategies to turn down excess central gain, correct distorted map topography, and restore normative temporal processing in service of improved auditory perception in individuals with hearing loss.
- Development and clinical testing of immersive, interactive computerized audiomotor training interfaces
- Psychophysics, pupillometry and EEG in persons that struggle with tinnitus, hyperacusis and speech intelligibility in noise
- Hearing aid research
- Optogenetic approaches to augment compensatory plasticity following hearing loss