In order to relate human auditory processing to physiological and anatomical experimental animal data, we have examined the interrelationships between behavioral, electrophysiological and anatomical data obtained from human subjects with focal brainstem lesions. Thirty-eight subjects with multiple sclerosis were studied with tests of interaural time and level discrimination (just noticeable differences or jnds), brainstem auditory evoked potentials and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. Interaural testing used two types of stimuli, high-pass (> 4000 Hz) and low-pass (< 1000 Hz) noise bursts. Abnormal time jnds (Tjnd) were far more common than abnormal level jnds (70% vs 11%); especially for the high-pass (Hp) noise (70% abnormal vs 40% abnormal for low-pass (Lp) noise). The HpTjnd could be abnormal with no other abnormalities; however, whenever the BAEPs, LpTjnd and/or level jnds were abnormal HpTjnd was always abnormal. Abnormal wave III amplitude was associated with abnormalities in both time jnds, but abnormal wave III latency with only abnormal HpTjnds. Abnormal wave V amplitude, when unilateral, was associated with a major HpTjnd abnormality, and, when bilateral, with both HpTjnd and LpTjnd major abnormalities. Sixteen of the subjects had their MR scans obtained with a uniform protocol and could be analyzed with objective criteria. In all four subjects with lesions involving the pontine auditory pathway, the BAEPs and both time jnds were abnormal. Of the twelve subjects with no lesions involving the pontine auditory pathway, all had normal BAEPs and level jnds. ten had normal LpTjnds, but only five had normal HpTjnds. We conclude that interaural time discrimination is closely related to the BAEPs and is dependent upon the stimulus spectrum. Redundant encoding of low-frequency sounds in the discharge patterns of auditory neurons, may explain why the HpTjnd is a better indicator of neural desynchrony than the LpTjnd. Encroachment of MS lesions upon the pontine auditory pathway always is associated with abnormal BAEPs and abnormal interaural time discrimination but may have normal interaural level discrimination. Our data provide one of the most direct demonstrations in humans of relationships among auditory performance, evoked potentials and anatomy. We present a model showing that many of these interrelationships can be readily interpreted using ideas developed from work on animals, even though these relationships could not have been predicted with confidence beforehand. This work provides a clear advance in our understanding of human auditory processing and should serve as a basis for future studies.
- Brainstem auditory evoked potentials
- Interaural discrimination
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Multiple sclerosis
- Sound lateralization