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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 19, 2014

Auditory-evoked cortical activity: contribution of brain noise, phase locking, and spectral power

  • Kelly C. Harris EMAIL logo , Kenneth I. Vaden and Judy R. Dubno


Background: The N1-P2 is an obligatory cortical response that can reflect the representation of spectral and temporal characteristics of an auditory stimulus. Traditionally, mean amplitudes and latencies of the prominent peaks in the averaged response are compared across experimental conditions. Analyses of the peaks in the averaged response only reflect a subset of the data contained within the electroencephalogram (EEG) signal. We used single-trial analyses techniques to identify the contribution of brain noise, neural synchrony, and spectral power to the generation of P2 amplitude and how these variables may change across age group. This information is important for appropriate interpretation of event-related potentials (ERPs) results and in understanding of age-related neural pathologies.

Methods: EEG was measured from 25 younger and 25 older normal hearing adults. Age-related and individual differences in P2 response amplitudes, and variability in brain noise, phase locking value (PLV), and spectral power (4–8 Hz) were assessed from electrode FCz. Model testing and linear regression were used to determine the extent to which brain noise, PLV, and spectral power uniquely predicted P2 amplitudes and varied by age group.

Results: Younger adults had significantly larger P2 amplitudes, PLV, and power compared to older adults. Brain noise did not differ between age groups. The results of regression testing revealed that brain noise and PLV, but not spectral power were unique predictors of P2 amplitudes. Model fit was significantly better in younger than in older adults.

Conclusions: ERP analyses are intended to provide a better understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms that contribute to individual and group differences in behavior. The current results support that age-related declines in neural synchrony contribute to smaller P2 amplitudes in older normal hearing adults. Based on our results, we discuss potential models in which differences in neural synchrony and brain noise can account for associations with P2 amplitudes and behavior and potentially provide a better explanation of the neural mechanisms that underlie declines in auditory processing and training benefits.

Corresponding author: Kelly C. Harris, Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina, 135 Rutledge Ave MSC550 Charleston, SC 29425, USA, Phone: +843-792-7977, Fax: +843-792-7736, E-mail:


This work was supported (in part) by research grants P50 DC000422 and K23 DC008787 from NIH/NIDCD and by the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research (SCTR) Institute, with an academic home at the Medical University of South Carolina, NIH/NCRR Grant number UL1 RR029882. This investigation was conducted in a facility constructed with support from Research Facilities Improvement Program Grant Number C06 RR14516 from the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.

Conflict of interest statement

Authors’ conflict of interest disclosure: The authors stated that there are no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this article. Research funding played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the report for publication.

Research funding: NIH/NIDCD (P50 DC000422 and K23 DC008787).

Employment or leadership: None declared.

Honorarium: None declared.


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Received: 2014-4-15
Accepted: 2014-5-23
Published Online: 2014-7-19
Published in Print: 2014-9-1

©2014 by De Gruyter

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