Objectives: The role of subcortical synchrony in speech-in-noise (SIN) recognition and the frequency-following response (FFR) was examined in multiple listeners with auditory neuropathy. Although an absent FFR has been documented in one listener with idiopathic neuropathy who has severe difficulty recognizing SIN, several etiologies cause the neuropathy phenotype. Consequently, it is necessary to replicate absent FFRs and concomitant SIN difficulties in patients with multiple sources and clinical presentations of neuropathy to elucidate fully the importance of subcortical neural synchrony for the FFR and SIN recognition.
Design: Case series. Three children with auditory neuropathy (two males with neuropathy attributed to hyperbilirubinemia, one female with a rare missense mutation in the OPA1 gene) were compared to age-matched controls with normal hearing (52 for electrophysiology and 48 for speech recognition testing). Tests included standard audiological evaluations, FFRs, and sentence recognition in noise. The three children with neuropathy had a range of clinical presentations, including moderate sensorineural hearing loss, use of a cochlear implant, and a rapid progressive hearing loss.
Results: Children with neuropathy generally had good speech recognition in quiet but substantial difficulties in noise. These SIN difficulties were somewhat mitigated by a clear speaking style and presenting words in a high semantic context. In the children with neuropathy, FFRs were absent from all tested stimuli. In contrast, age-matched controls had reliable FFRs.
Conclusion: Subcortical synchrony is subject to multiple forms of disruption but results in a consistent phenotype of an absent FFR and substantial difficulties recognizing SIN. These results support the hypothesis that subcortical synchrony is necessary for the FFR. Thus, in healthy listeners, the FFR may reflect subcortical neural processes important for SIN recognition.
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