JOURNAL ARTICLE

Diffusion tensor imaging reveals white matter microstructure correlations with auditory processing ability

Vincent J Schmithorst, Scott K Holland, Elena Plante
Ear and Hearing 2011, 32 (2): 156-67
21063207

OBJECTIVE: Correlation of white matter microstructure with various cognitive processing tasks and with overall intelligence has been previously demonstrated. We investigate the correlation of white matter microstructure with various higher-order auditory processing tasks, including interpretation of speech-in-noise, recognition of low-pass frequency filtered words, and interpretation of time-compressed sentences at two different values of compression. These tests are typically used to diagnose auditory processing disorder (APD) in children. Our hypothesis is that correlations between white matter microstructure in tracts connecting the temporal, frontal, and parietal lobes, as well as callosal pathways, will be seen. Previous functional imaging studies have shown correlations between activation in temporal, frontal, and parietal regions from higher-order auditory processing tasks. In addition, we hypothesize that the regions displaying correlations will vary according to the task because each task uses a different set of skills.

DESIGN: Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data were acquired from a cohort of 17 normal-hearing children aged 9 to 11 yrs. Fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of white matter fiber tract integrity and organization, was computed and correlated on a voxelwise basis with performance on the auditory processing tasks, controlling for age, sex, and full-scale IQ.

RESULTS: Divergent correlations of white matter FA depending on the particular auditory processing task were found. Positive correlations were found between FA and speech-in-noise in white matter adjoining prefrontal areas and between FA and filtered words in the corpus callosum. Regions exhibiting correlations with time-compressed sentences varied depending on the degree of compression: the greater degree of compression (with the greatest difficulty) resulted in correlations in white matter adjoining prefrontal (dorsal and ventral), whereas the smaller degree of compression (with less difficulty) resulted in correlations in white matter adjoining audiovisual association areas and the posterior cingulate. Only the time-compressed sentences with the lowest degree of compression resulted in positive correlations in the centrum semiovale; all the other tasks resulted in negative correlations.

CONCLUSIONS: The dependence of performance on higher-order auditory processing tasks on brain anatomical connectivity was seen in normal-hearing children aged 9 to 11 yrs. Results support a previously hypothesized dual-stream (dorsal and ventral) model of auditory processing, and that higher-order processing tasks rely less on the dorsal stream related to articulatory networks and more on the ventral stream related to semantic comprehension. Results also show that the regions correlating with auditory processing vary according to the specific task, indicating that the neurological bases for the various tests used to diagnose APD in children may be partially independent.

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