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Investigating the adaptive capabilities of the brain following asymmetric hearing loss


Project Description

Accurate spatial hearing has clear survival value, by indicating, for example, the approach of a vehicle when crossing the street. It also plays an important role in “cocktail party listening”, where the challenge is to pick out a particular voice in a crowd. This ability relies principally on the detection of differences in the timing and intensity of sound between the two ears, and is therefore impaired in the many cases where hearing loss affects one ear more than the other. The Auditory Neuroscience Group in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford has shown that adult listeners can learn to adapt to a temporary hearing loss produced by plugging one ear. We have shown that the brain can compensate for this imbalance in hearing between the two ears either by switching from binaural to monaural spatial cues for localization in the horizontal plane or by learning to associate the abnormal binaural spatial cues with appropriate locations in space.

This 3 year PhD project, which is funded by Action on Hearing Loss and the Wellcome Trust, will investigate the neural basis by which the brain is able to adapt to asymmetric hearing loss and extend this work to more natural listening conditions than those typically used in the laboratory. By investigating the extent to which these mechanisms operate under more challenging listening conditions – in the presence of other, interfering sounds – and following sensorineural (rather than purely conductive) hearing loss in one ear, the project will reveal how what we hear shapes the way sounds are processed and perceived. This study should also highlight improved strategies for treating people with hearing loss that affects one ear more than the other.

The successful applicant will be based in the Auditory Neuroscience Group, a team of 20 full-time researchers, who are studying the neural basis for auditory perception. The project will provide training in the use of behavioural methods, in vivo electrophysiological recordings and optogenetic approaches for investigating the neural circuitry involved.

Key requirements: The successful PhD candidate will be involved in planning/programming experiments, collecting and analysing data, and reporting the results for publication and writing a thesis. Candidates must have the equivalent of a first or upper-second class degree in neuroscience, biomedical science, psychology, preclinical medicine, audiology, bioengineering or a closely related field. The funding for this studentship, which starts on 1 October 2019, provides a stipend for 3 years and covers fees at the UK/EU rate.

To apply, please send a covering letter (detailing why you are interested and a suitable candidate for this PhD project), a CV, and the names of 3 referees to Professor Andrew King () to whom informal inquiries can be directed. The position is open until filled, but the deadline for the initial assessment of candidates is Friday 22nd February 2019, with interviews taking place at the end of February.

Funding Notes

Funding for this three year studentship comes from the charity Action on Hearing Loss. The stipend will start at £15,500 in the first year, rising by £500 in years 2 and 3. University and College fees are provided (at the UK/EU rate), along with a conference and training allowance.

References

Relevant publications
Bajo VM, Nodal FR, Moore DR and King AJ (2010). The descending corticocollicular pathway mediates learning-induced auditory plasticity. Nature Neuroscience 13: 253-260.
Keating P, Dahmen JC and King AJ (2013) Context-specific reweighting of auditory spatial cues following altered experience during development. Current Biology 23: 1291-1299.
Keating P, Dahmen JC and King AJ (2015) Complementary adaptive processes contribute to the developmental plasticity of spatial hearing. Nature Neuroscience 18: 185-187.
Keating P, Rosenior-Patten O, Dahmen JC, Bell O and King AJ (2016) Behavioral training promotes multiple adaptive processes following acute hearing loss. eLife 5: e12264.
Kumpik DP and King AJ (2019) A review of the effects of unilateral hearing loss on spatial hearing. Hearing Research 372:17-28.

How good is research at University of Oxford in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 223.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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