Abstract: Fetuses can listen to and learn about language in utero. Premature birth disrupts typical ontogenetic development of the fetus during a period of rapid neurodevelopment, with long-term behavioral consequences. For example, language processing deficits are a hallmark of children born very premature. Abnormal auditory processing associated with premature birth has also been reported, but the neural underpinnings are unknown. In this talk I will report on efforts to characterize brain development in vivo in preterm infants using neuroimaging techniques. Macro- and microstructural differences between preterm and full-term infants are apparent in both gray and white matter, and are associated with language development later in life. Our results suggest that auditory cortical maturation might be particularly susceptible to preterm birth-related disturbances. Potential contributing factors include atypical auditory experience associated with premature transition from the intrauterine acoustic environment to that of the neonatal intensive care unit. Our lab is currently undertaking efforts to determine which aspects of perinatal auditory experience are relevant to long-term auditory and language outcomes.
Speaker bio: Dr. Monson's research interests center around auditory neurodevelopment and the development of speech/voice perception. His research program aims to answer a fundamental question in neuroscience: How does experience with the environment affect auditory neurodevelopment and perception? His work focuses on two major themes: (1) auditory neurodevelopment in preterm infants, and (2) the contribution of very high-frequency hearing capability and hearing loss to speech/voice perception for both children and adults. In each case, the long-term goal is to improve the auditory experience for individuals who face communication difficulties.