Jessica MacLean, Jack Stirn, Alexandria Sisson, Gavin M Bidelman

Short- and long-term neuroplasticity interact during the perceptual learning of concurrent speech

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

Abstract Plasticity from auditory experience shapes the brain’s encoding and perception of sound. However, whether such long-term plasticity alters the trajectory of short-term plasticity during speech processing has yet to be investigated. Here, we explored the neural mechanisms and interplay between short- and long-term neuroplasticity for rapid auditory perceptual learning of concurrent speech sounds in young, normal-hearing musicians and nonmusicians. Participants learned to identify double-vowel mixtures during ~ 45 min training sessions recorded simultaneously with high-density electroencephalography (EEG). We analyzed frequency-following responses (FFRs) and event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate neural correlates of learning at subcortical and cortical levels, respectively. Although both groups showed rapid perceptual learning, musicians showed faster behavioral decisions than nonmusicians overall. Learning-related changes were not apparent in brainstem FFRs. However, plasticity was highly evident in cortex, where ERPs revealed unique hemispheric asymmetries between groups suggestive of different neural strategies (musicians: right hemisphere bias; nonmusicians: left hemisphere). Source reconstruction and the early (150–200 ms) time course of these effects localized learning-induced cortical plasticity to auditory-sensory brain areas. Our findings reinforce the domain-general benefits of musicianship but reveal that successful speech sound learning is driven by a critical interplay between long- and short-term mechanisms of auditory plasticity, which first emerge at a cortical level.

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