Early Auditory Training Yields Positive Cognitive Results into Older Age

A team of researchers has demonstrated the positive long-term impacts of early auditory training on counteracting declines in perception and cognition into older age. Its findings, which appear recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, propose a potential strategy for attenuating age-related brain declines.

“The effectiveness of training intervention to counteract brain aging effects is a key topic in the study of brain plasticity. We pioneered in introducing training interventions in young adulthood instead of old adulthood when performing behavioral tasks is difficult due to the overall decline in perceptual and cognitive functions.” says Xiaoming Zhou, one of the paper’s corresponding authors, who is also a Professor of Neurobiology at East China Normal University and an associated member of the NYU-ECNU Institute of Brain and Cognitive Science at NYU Shanghai.

Using animal model, Zhou’s group trained a cohort of rats to fulfill an attentional demanding modulation-rate recognition task when they were 2-month old. Eighteen months after the initial training, rats from the same group, which by then were old-aged, were evaluated on their sound discrimination performances through another sound task. Acoustic responses of neurons in their primary auditory cortex were also recorded. These recorded behavioral and neuronal responses were then compared to the control groups of age-matched untrained rats, as well as young rats.

Surprisingly as the data shows, rats with early training sustained stronger behavioral and cortical neuronal responses 18 months after the training was ceased. In addition to that, the number of certain inhibitory neurons - neurons that signify the wellness of brain plasticity, learning and memory - detected in those trained rats’ primary auditory cortices and hippocampus were remarkably closer to young vigorous adult rats compared to those untrained ones.

“The study shows that appropriate forms of training in a relatively young brain has long brain-health values, sharply improving neurological abilities and brain health over a long post-training period.” Notes Michael Merzenich, a leading figure in the study of brain plasticity, a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and the paper’s other corresponding author.

Their findings, the researchers say, will also have great implications for driving the development of new brain health medicines, as well as calling for new brain training methods.

The research was supported by grants from the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China (Program of Introducing Talents of Discipline to Universities Grant B16018), the NYU-ECNU Joint Research Institutes at NYU Shanghai (JRI Seed Grants #20170317JFXZ) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grants 81570925, 91632108, 81271085, and 81530030).

Journal Reference:
Cheng Y, Jia G, Zhang Y, Hao H, Shan Y, Yu L, Sun X, Zheng Q, Kraus N, Merzenich MM, Zhou X. Positive impacts of early auditory training on cortical processing at an older age. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017,114(24):6364-6369.