Temporal envelope processing is critical for speech comprehension, which is known to be affected by normal aging. Whereas the macaque is an excellent animal model for human cerebral cortical function, few studies have investigated neural processing in the auditory cortex of aged, nonhuman primates. Therefore, we investigated age-related changes in the spiking activity of neurons in primary auditory cortex (A1) of two aged macaque monkeys using amplitude-modulated (AM) noise and compared these responses with data from a similar study in young monkeys (Yin P, Johnson JS, O'Connor KN, Sutter ML. J Neurophysiol 105: 582–600, 2011). For each neuron, we calculated firing rate (rate code) and phase-locking using phase-projected vector strength (temporal code). We made several key findings where neurons in old monkeys differed from those in young monkeys. Old monkeys had higher spontaneous and driven firing rates, fewer neurons that synchronized with the AM stimulus, and fewer neurons that had differential responses to AM stimuli with both a rate and temporal code. Finally, whereas rate and temporal tuning functions were positively correlated in young monkeys, this relationship was lost in older monkeys at both the population and single neuron levels. These results are consistent with considerable evidence from rodents and primates of an age-related decrease in inhibition throughout the auditory pathway. Furthermore, this dual coding in A1 is thought to underlie the capacity to encode multiple features of an acoustic stimulus. The apparent loss of ability to encode AM with both rate and temporal codes may have consequences for stream segregation and effective speech comprehension in complex listening environments.
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