PiN Faculty Member - Daniel Polley, PhD

Daniel Polley, PhD

Associate Professor of Otology and Laryngology

Eaton-Peabody Laboratory
243 Charles Street
Boston, MA 02114
Tel: 617-391-5952
Fax: 617-720-4408
Visit my lab page here.

Early stages of auditory processing feature a variety of biophysical and synaptic specializations that allow neurons to precisely synchronize action potential timing to spectral, temporal, and dichotic features within the acoustic source signal. As afferent activity wends its way up the central auditory neuroaxis the functional organization changes to support more integrative and contextual processing until, at the level of the auditory cortex, the high-fidelity temporal representations from earlier stages have been almost entirely reformatted to rate-based abstractions of the original signal. Although auditory cortex neurons are ill-equipped to encode rapid temporal fluctuations through precise spike timing, they are endowed with a plasticity that supports specific, lasting, and adaptive adjustments in rate-based feature tuning. Our laboratory seeks to understand how ‘bottom up’ sensory traces are modulated by cognitive influences such as emotion, learning, and prediction in a manner that accentuates perceptual salience and facilitates adaptive behavior. Currently, we pursue this idea in two ways: Firstly, by exploring how neurons in the deep layers of the auditory cortex refine subcortical sound processing through the vast, but poorly understood network of corticofugal projections; Secondly, by studying the neural circuits that link sensory traces with behavioral reinforcement signals to enable adaptive plasticity of cortical sound representations.

The lab is deeply interested in exploring therapeutic applications for our research on brain plasticity. Our sense of hearing arises from an electrochemical dialogue between the cochlea and the brain. We are committed to understanding how the brain can further isolate, denoise, or otherwise enhance imperfect signals from a damaged cochlea to reinstate this dialogue and allow individuals to function in our noisy society. We study this in animal models by tracking the intrinsic plasticity mechanisms that allow higher auditory areas to partially restore actionable sound representations after profound cochlear hearing loss. We translate these discoveries into non-invasive treatments for humans who struggle with hearing impairment or tinnitus. To date, our clinical research has focused on programming and testing new types of "audio games" designed to diagnose and rehabilitate auditory processing deficits by engaging and directing the brain’s intrinsic capacity for adaptive reorganization.

Last Update: 3/18/2015


For a complete listing of publications click here.



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