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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Plasticity in neuromagnetic cortical responses suggests enhanced auditory object representation

Bernhard Ross12*, Shahab Jamali12 and Kelly L Tremblay3

Author Affiliations

1 Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Centre, 3560 Bathurst Street, Toronto M6A 2E1, ON, Canada

2 Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

3 Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:151  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-151

Published: 5 December 2013



Auditory perceptual learning persistently modifies neural networks in the central nervous system. Central auditory processing comprises a hierarchy of sound analysis and integration, which transforms an acoustical signal into a meaningful object for perception. Based on latencies and source locations of auditory evoked responses, we investigated which stage of central processing undergoes neuroplastic changes when gaining auditory experience during passive listening and active perceptual training. Young healthy volunteers participated in a five-day training program to identify two pre-voiced versions of the stop-consonant syllable ‘ba’, which is an unusual speech sound to English listeners. Magnetoencephalographic (MEG) brain responses were recorded during two pre-training and one post-training sessions. Underlying cortical sources were localized, and the temporal dynamics of auditory evoked responses were analyzed.


After both passive listening and active training, the amplitude of the P2m wave with latency of 200 ms increased considerably. By this latency, the integration of stimulus features into an auditory object for further conscious perception is considered to be complete. Therefore the P2m changes were discussed in the light of auditory object representation. Moreover, P2m sources were localized in anterior auditory association cortex, which is part of the antero-ventral pathway for object identification. The amplitude of the earlier N1m wave, which is related to processing of sensory information, did not change over the time course of the study.


The P2m amplitude increase and its persistence over time constitute a neuroplastic change. The P2m gain likely reflects enhanced object representation after stimulus experience and training, which enables listeners to improve their ability for scrutinizing fine differences in pre-voicing time. Different trajectories of brain and behaviour changes suggest that the preceding effect of a P2m increase relates to brain processes, which are necessary precursors of perceptual learning. Cautious discussion is required when interpreting the finding of a P2 amplitude increase between recordings before and after training and learning.

Neural plasticity; Perceptual learning; Auditory object representation; Auditory cortex; Auditory evoked response; Magnetoencephalography