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Deaf rats trained to hear sounds

February 24, 2009

Scientists have managed to train rats with hearing defects to pick out sounds from background noise, giving a possible solution to hearing-impaired children with difficulties in learning language.

Distinguishing speech from background noise, or temporal processing, is important in learning a language. When there are defects in this function, young children may encounter problems learning a language and reading.

In an article published in Nature Neuroscience, scientists in China and the US described how they trained rats with hearing defects to pick out relevant sounds from background noise using food rewards.

“The training-induced cortical changes endured for at least two months after training ceased,” wrote scientists Xiaoming Zhou at the East China Normal University in Shanghai and Michael Merzenich at the W.M. Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California.

“Our results illustrate, for the first time to the best of our knowledge, the neurological restoration of cortical temporal processing capacities by intensive behavioral training in developmentally degraded juvenile and adult animals.”

Looking ahead, the researchers said their findings could be used in training people with temporal processing problems.

“All these findings contribute to the growing body of studies that reveal the extent to which, and the specific strategies by which, developmentally impaired brains can be corrected in older children and adults,” they wrote.


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