Correlational evidence in humans suggests that selective difficulties hearing in noisy, social settings may reflect premature auditory nerve degeneration. Here, we induced primary cochlear neural degeneration (CND) in adult mice and found direct behavioral evidence for selective detection deficits in background noise. To identify central determinants for this perceptual disorder, we tracked daily changes in ensembles of layer 2/3 auditory cortex parvalbumin-expressing inhibitory neurons and excitatory pyramidal neurons with chronic two-photon calcium imaging. CND induced distinct forms of plasticity in cortical excitatory and inhibitory neurons that culminated in net hyperactivity, increased neural gain, and reduced adaptation to background noise. Ensemble activity measured while mice detected targets in noise could accurately decode whether individual behavioral trials were hits or misses. After CND, random surges of hypercorrelated cortical activity occurring just before target onset reliably predicted impending detection failures, revealing a source of internal cortical noise underlying perceptual difficulties in external noise.
Keywords: auditory cortex; hearing in noise; hidden hearing loss; homeostatic plasticity; nerve damage; neuropathy; parvalbumin; spiral ganglion; synaptopathy; two-photon calcium imaging.
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