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The association between subcortical and cortical fMRI and lifetime noise exposure in listeners with normal hearing thresholds

Dewey, Rebecca S; Francis, Susan T; Guest, Hannah; Prendergast, Garreth; Millman, Rebecca E; Plack, Christopher J; Hall, Deborah A


Hannah Guest

Garreth Prendergast

Rebecca E Millman

Christopher J Plack

Deborah A Hall


© 2019 In animal models, exposure to high noise levels can cause permanent damage to hair-cell synapses (cochlear synaptopathy) for high-threshold auditory nerve fibers without affecting sensitivity to quiet sounds. This has been confirmed in several mammalian species, but the hypothesis that lifetime noise exposure affects auditory function in humans with normal audiometric thresholds remains unconfirmed and current evidence from human electrophysiology is contradictory. Here we report the auditory brainstem response (ABR), and both transient (stimulus onset and offset) and sustained functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) responses throughout the human central auditory pathway across lifetime noise exposure. Healthy young individuals aged 25–40 years were recruited into high (n = 32) and low (n = 30) lifetime noise exposure groups, stratified for age, and balanced for audiometric threshold up to 16 kHz fMRI demonstrated robust broadband noise-related activity throughout the auditory pathway (cochlear nucleus, superior olivary complex, nucleus of the lateral lemniscus, inferior colliculus, medial geniculate body and auditory cortex). fMRI responses in the auditory pathway to broadband noise onset were significantly enhanced in the high noise exposure group relative to the low exposure group, differences in sustained fMRI responses did not reach significance, and no significant group differences were found in the click-evoked ABR. Exploratory analyses found no significant relationships between the neural responses and self-reported tinnitus or reduced sound-level tolerance (symptoms associated with synaptopathy). In summary, although a small effect, these fMRI results suggest that lifetime noise exposure may be associated with central hyperactivity in young adults with normal hearing thresholds.


Dewey, R. S., Francis, S. T., Guest, H., Prendergast, G., Millman, R. E., Plack, C. J., & Hall, D. A. (2020). The association between subcortical and cortical fMRI and lifetime noise exposure in listeners with normal hearing thresholds. NeuroImage, 204,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 30, 2019
Online Publication Date Oct 3, 2019
Publication Date Jan 1, 2020
Deposit Date Oct 15, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 4, 2020
Journal NeuroImage
Print ISSN 1053-8119
Electronic ISSN 1095-9572
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 204
Article Number 116239
Keywords Cognitive Neuroscience; Neurology
Public URL
Publisher URL


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