While life-long language experience modulates subcortical encoding of pitch patterns, there is emerging evidence that short-term training introduced in adulthood also shapes subcortical pitch encoding. Here, we use a cross-language design to examine the stability of language experience-dependent subcortical plasticity over multiple days. We then examine the extent to which behavioral relevance induced by speech sound-to-category training leads to plastic changes in subcortical pitch encoding in adulthood relative to adolescence, a period of ongoing maturation of subcortical and cortical auditory processing. Frequency-following responses (FFRs), which reflect phase-locked activity from subcortical neural ensembles, were elicited while participants passively listened to pitch patterns reflective of Mandarin tones. In experiment 1, FFRs were recorded across three consecutive days from native Chinese-speaking (n = 10) and English-speaking (n = 10) adults. In experiment 2, FFRs were recorded from native English-speaking adolescents (n = 20) and adults (n = 15) before, during, and immediately after a session of speech sound-to-category training, as well as a day after training ceased. Experiment 1 demonstrated the stability of language experience-dependent subcortical plasticity in pitch encoding across multiple days of passive exposure to linguistic pitch patterns. In contrast, Experiment 2 revealed an enhancement in subcortical pitch encoding that emerged a day after the sound-to-category training, with some developmental differences observed. Taken together, these findings suggest that behavioral relevance is a critical component for the observation of plasticity in the subcortical encoding of pitch.
- pitch encoding
- experience-dependent plasticity
- auditory training
- frequency-following response
- Copyright © 2016, Journal of Neurophysiology