Asymmetric, dynamic adaptation in prefrontal cortex during dichotic listening tasks
Speech comprehension relies on highly distributed, dynamically interconnected neuroanatomical loci. Accordingly, performance on complex speech processing tasks such as dichotic listening can be used to assess the integrity and health of many functional and structural aspects of the brain. Despite the potential merits as a clinical assessment tool, however, the neural substrates activated during dichotic listening remain relatively opaque at higher processing levels. Ultimately, this knowledge
... p limits diagnostic use of the task. At the level of the prefrontal cortex, dichotic listening induces an asymmetric response wherein regions on the right hemisphere exhibit a higher functional activation than on the left. Superficially, this finding is counterintuitive given the left hemisphere's dominance for speech and language. To obtain a more in-depth perspective on the potentially distinct roles of the right and left prefrontal cortex, we optically monitored cerebral blood flow in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) during dichotic listening tasks in human subjects. The method permitted us to avoid systematic experimental confounds that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements suffer from, namely the influence of scanner noise. In addition to reproducing the documented larger activation amplitude in the right hemisphere, we also found that repeated listening task blocks were associated with altered kinetics of blood flow in the right, but not the left DLPFC. Interestingly, subjects with the most prominent regional blood flow changes in the right hemisphere also displayed large distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) in the left ear, possibly signaling a correlation between prefrontal activity and top-down listening control infrastructure through medial olivocochlear efferent projections to the inner ear. Overall, our results suggest that the right prefrontal cortical regions play an active role in optimizing task performance.