Plasticity of frequency organization in auditory cortex of guinea pigs with partial unilateral deafness



We have examined the effect of restricted unilateral cochlear lesions on the orderly topographic mapping of sound frequency in the auditory cortex of adult guinea pigs. These lesions, although restricted in spatial extent, resulted in a variety of patterns of histological damage to receptor cells and nerve fibres within the cochlea. Nevertheless, all lesions resulted in permanent losses of sensitivity of the cochlear neural output across a limited frequency range. Thirty-five to 81 days after such damage to the organ of Corti, the area of contralateral auditory cortex in which the lesioned frequency range would normally have been represented was partly occupied by an expanded representation of sound frequencies adjacent to the frequency range damaged by the lesion. The thresholds at their new characteristic frequencies (CFs) of clusters of cortical neurones in these regions were close to normal thresholds at those frequencies (mean difference across all animals was 3.8 dB). In a second series of experiments, the responses of neurone clusters were examined within hours of making similar cochlear lesions. It was found that shifts in CF toward frequencies spared by the lesions could occur, but thresholds were greatly elevated compared to normal (mean difference was 31.7 dB in five animals). The emergence of sensitive drive in such regions after prolonged recovery periods in lesioned animals thus suggests that the auditory cortical frequency map undergoes reorganization in cases of partial deafness. Some features of this reorganization are similar to changes reported in somatosensory cortex after peripheral nerve injury, and this form of plasticity may therefore be a feature of all adult sensory systems.