Research Interests

An Introduction

We experience the world through our sensory systems. Compared to all other sensory systems, the auditory modality has by far the highest temporal resolution, detecting for example interaural time differences in the microsecond range. Another example for the outstanding temporal capabilities of the auditory system is the ability of the auditory nerve to synchronize its neuronal discharge activities to the time structure of sounds up to frequencies as high as 5 kHz.

These temporal abilities reflect adaptations to the enormous requirements the auditory system has to fulfil: Performing a real time analysis of different streams of sound information exciting the same receptor epethelia simultaneously, like for example in a cocktail-party situation, where voices of different speakers have to be separated and followed over time.

Injuries of the auditory system, e.g. after stroke, neurotrauma or cancer, consequently lead to severe impairments of patients: Because of the resulting social isolation, deaf people tend to perform suicide much more frequently than for example blind people, as do people who suffer from unbearable tinnitus. But also less severe impairements, like auditory neuropathy, where especially the temporal coding potential of the auditory system is impaired leaving absolute hearing thresholds unaffected, lead to strong deficits, in particular in speech recognition.

On the other hand, the auditory system has an astonishing potential to reorganize itself, trying to compensate for the described deficits. The most intriguing example for this reorganization may be the success of cochlear implants, where the auditory system “learns” to use a completely new and very limited input of information, given into the system by crude electrical stimulation within the inner ear, to regain speech recognition abilities. But plastic reorganization of the auditory system may also lead to maladaptations, as for example in the case of central tinnitus.

In the experimental otolaryngology lab, we try to explore these fascinating characteristics of the auditory system, especially its temporal encoding and object segregation mechanisms as well as neuronal plasticity. Our research encompasses all levels of auditory processing from the cochlea to behaviour, with a speciel focus onto the auditory cortex, the highest level of the sensory part of auditory processing in the brain. We hear with our brain, not with our ears!
Most of our experiments are carried out in an animal model, the Mongolian Gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus, see startpage), but we also conduct experiments on (transgenic) mice, rats and, in cooperation with other groups, human subjects. On the following pages, our current research projects, applied methods, and the researchers involved are introduced in more detail.

Thank you for your interest in our lab. We hope you enjoy your trip!