Higher-order auditory areas in congenital deafness: Top-down interactions and corticocortical decoupling

Hear Res. 2017 Jan;343:50-63. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2016.08.017. Epub 2016 Sep 13.


The theory of predictive coding assumes that higher-order representations influence lower-order representations by generating predictions about sensory input. In congenital deafness, one identified dysfunction is a reduced activation of deep layers in the auditory cortex. Since these layers play a central role for processing top-down influences, congenital deafness might interfere with the integration of top-down and bottom-up information flow. Studies in humans suggest more deficits in higher-order than in primary cortical areas in congenital deafness. That opens up the question how well neurons in higher-order areas can be activated by the input through the deprived auditory pathway after restoration of hearing with cochlear implants. Further it is unclear whether their interconnections to lower order areas are impaired by absence of hearing. Corticocortical anatomical fiber tracts and general auditory responsiveness in both primary and higher-order areas are generally preserved in absence of auditory experience. However, the existing data suggest a dichotomy between preservation of anatomical cortical connectivity in congenital deafness and functional deficits in corticocortical coupling. Further, cross-modal reorganization observed in congenital deafness in specific cortical areas appears to be established by functional synaptic changes and rests on anatomically preserved, genetically-predetermined and molecularly patterned circuitry connecting the sensory systems. Current data indicate a reduced corticocortical functional coupling between cortical auditory areas in congenital deafness, both in bottom-up and top-down information stream. Consequently, congenital deafness is likely to result in a deficit in predictive coding that affects learning ability after late cochlear implantation.

Keywords: Cross-modal plasticity; Deafness; Prediction error; Predictive coding; Sensory deprivation; Top-down.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Auditory Pathways / physiopathology
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Cortical Synchronization*
  • Deafness / congenital
  • Deafness / diagnosis
  • Deafness / physiopathology*
  • Deafness / psychology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Hearing*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Neuronal Plasticity*