In the brain, the temporal analysis of many important auditory features relies on the synchronized firing of neurons to the auditory input rhythm. These so-called neural oscillations play a crucial role in sensory and cognitive processing and deviances in oscillatory activity have shown to be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Given the importance of neural auditory oscillations in normal and impaired sensory and cognitive functioning, there has been growing interest in their developmental trajectory from early childhood on.
In the present study, neural auditory processing was investigated in typically developing young children (n = 40) and adults (n = 27). In all participants, auditory evoked theta, beta and gamma responses were recorded. The results of this study show maturational differences between children and adults in neural auditory processing at cortical as well as at brainstem level. Neural background noise at cortical level was shown to be higher in children compared to adults. In addition, higher theta response amplitudes were measured in children compared to adults. For beta and gamma rate modulations, different processing asymmetry patterns were observed between both age groups. The mean response phase was also shown to differ significantly between children and adults for all rates.
Results suggest that cortical auditory processing of beta develops from a general processing pattern into a more specialized asymmetric processing preference over age. Moreover, the results indicate an enhancement of bilateral representation of monaural sound input at brainstem with age. A dissimilar efficiency of auditory signal transmission from brainstem to cortex along the auditory pathway between children and adults is suggested. These developmental differences might be due to both functional experience-dependent as well as anatomical changes. The findings of the present study offer important information about maturational differences between children and adults for responses to theta, beta and gamma rates. The current study can have important implications for the understanding of developmental disorders which are known to be associated with deviances in neural auditory processing.