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Keywords:

  • ABR;
  • change detection;
  • mismatch negativity (MMN);
  • MLR;
  • sensory memory

Abstract

The ability to detect unexpected novel stimuli is crucial for survival, as it might urge a prompt adaptive response. Human auditory novelty detection has been associated to the mismatch negativity long-latency auditory-evoked potential, peaking at 100–200 ms. Yet, recent animal studies showing novelty responses at a very short latency (about 20–30 ms) in individual neurons already at the level of the midbrain and thalamus suggest that novelty detection might be a basic principle of the functional organization of the auditory system, expanding from lower levels in the brainstem along the auditory pathway up to higher-order areas of the cerebral cortex. To test this suggestion, we here measured auditory brainstem and middle latency response (MLR) to frequency novel stimuli embedded in an oddball sequence. To oversee refractoriness confounds a ‘control block’ was used. The results showed that occasional changes in auditory frequency information were detected as early as 30 ms (Pa waveform of the MLR) after stimulus onset. The control block precluded these effects as resulting merely from refractoriness, altogether supporting the notion of ‘true’ early auditory change detection in humans, matching the latency range of auditory novelty responses described in individual neurons of subhuman species. Our results suggest that auditory change detection of frequency information is a multistage process that occurs at the primary auditory cortex and is transmitted to the higher levels of the auditory pathway.