Environmental Noise Retards Auditory Cortical Development

Science  18 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5618, pp. 498-502
DOI: 10.1126/science.1082163

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The mammalian auditory cortex normally undergoes rapid and progressive functional maturation. Here we show that rearing infant rat pups in continuous, moderate-level noise delayed the emergence of adultlike topographic representational order and the refinement of response selectivity in the primary auditory cortex (A1) long beyond normal developmental benchmarks. When those noise-reared adult rats were subsequently exposed to a pulsed pure-tone stimulus, A1 rapidly reorganized, demonstrating that exposure-driven plasticity characteristic of the critical period was still ongoing. These results demonstrate that A1 organization is shaped by a young animal's exposure to salient, structured acoustic inputs—and implicate noise as a risk factor for abnormal child development.

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