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September 2021

Auditory evoked potentials to spectro-temporal modulation of complex tones in normal subjects and patients with severe brain injury

Author(s): Vaz Pato, M., Sprague, L., Stokes, M., Munday, R., Haque, N.

Journal/Book: Brain. 2000; 123: 1007-16.

Abstract: In order to assess higher auditory processing capabilities, long- latency auditory evoked potentials (AEPs) were recorded to synthesized musical instrument tones in 22 post-comatose patients with severe brain injury causing variably attenuated behavioural responsiveness. On the basis of normative studies, three different types of spectro-temporal modulation were employed. When a continuous 'clarinet' tone changes pitch once every few seconds, N1/P2 potentials are evoked at latencies of approximately 90 and 180 ms, respectively. Their distribution in the fronto-central region is consistent with generators in the supratemporal cortex of both hemispheres. When the pitch is modulated at a much faster rate ( approximately 16 changes/s), responses to each change are virtually abolished but potentials with similar distribution are still elicited by changing the timbre (e.g. 'clarinet' to 'oboe') every few seconds. These responses appear to represent the cortical processes concerned with spectral pattern analysis and the grouping of frequency components to form sound 'objects'. Following a period of 16/s oscillation between two pitches, a more anteriorly distributed negativity is evoked on resumption of a steady pitch. Various lines of evidence suggest that this is probably equivalent to the 'mismatch negativity' (MMN), reflecting a pre-perceptual, memory-based process for detection of change in spectro-temporal sound patterns. This method requires no off-line subtraction of AEPs evoked by the onset of a tone, and the MMN is produced rapidly and robustly with considerably larger amplitude (usually > 5 microV) than that to discontinuous pure tones. In the brain-injured patients, the presence of AEPs to two or more complex tone stimuli (in the combined assessment of two authors who were 'blind' to the clinical and behavioural data) was significantly associated with the demonstrable possession of discriminative hearing (the ability to respond differentially to verbal commands, in the assessment of a further author who was blind to the AEP findings). Behavioural and electrophysiological findings were in accordance in 18/22 patients, but no AEPs could be recorded in two patients who had clear behavioural evidence of discriminative hearing. The absence of long-latency AEPs should not, therefore, be considered indicative of complete functional deafness. Conversely, AEPs were substantially preserved in two patients without behavioural evidence of discriminative hearing. Although not necessarily indicative of conscious 'awareness', such AEP preservation might help to identify sentient patients who are prevented by severe motor disability from communicating their perception.

Keyword(s): Acoustic Stimulation. Adolescence. Adult. Brain Injuries/physiopathology. Coma. Evoked Potentials, Auditory/physiology. Female. Human. Male. Middle Age. Music. Oscillometry. Pitch Perception. Reaction Time. Reference Values. Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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