NIH Grant Aids SIU Hearing Research

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February 8, 2015

NIH Grant Aids SIU Hearing Research

Caspary lab to study science of aging and speech understanding

Hearing loss often includes a loss of speech comprehension. This affects at least half of the population over the age of 70, and the most severely affected withdraw from active participation in society.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine research scientist Don Caspary, PhD, has received a five-year grant from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to advance his study of hearing loss and speech understanding in the elderly.

The total budget for the project is $2.6 million.

To maintain speech understanding, older individuals need to exert additional effort by carefully attending to speech. Age-related changes in brain chemical receptors in regions of the auditory brain could contribute to difficulties in attending to speech. A major goal of this research is to find ways to improve speech understanding in older populations.

In the hearing process, sound waves received in the ear convert to electrical impulses that travel through the auditory nerve to different stations in the brain. Areas within the auditory brain read the impulses and reinterpret them as specific sounds. Caspary’s research has attempted to identify exactly how the brain does this, and how aging degrades hearing of speech-like sounds. In an animal model, the present studies examine the impact of aging on certain brain chemical/neurotransmitter receptors (nicotinic cholinergic receptors) in one specialized hearing area within the brain. Changes to this receptor may partially explain the difficulty older individuals experience when trying to attend to and understand speech.

Caspary has studied hearing for more than 40 years with his group, which now includes principal researchers Thomas Brozoski, PhD, Rui Cai, PhD, Brandon Cox, PhD, laboratory director Lynne Ling and graduate student Sarah Sottile. They have found that age-related brain receptors and chemical changes result in degraded processing of speech-like sounds as the code moves through the different brain stations. This NIH grant on hearing loss and neurotransmitters has been funded since 1979. Additional research studies have been funded by the NIH and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

Caspary joined SIU School of Medicine’s faculty in 1972 as an assistant professor of neurobiology. He completed his postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at S.U.N.Y.-Albany in New York. He earned his doctoral degree in neurobiology from New York University in New York City (1971), his master’s degree in zoology at Syracuse University in New York (1968) and his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison (1965).

Research reported in this press release is supported by USNIH under award number 2R01DC000151-33A1.

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Karen Carlson,
SIU, 217-545-3854

Lauren Murphy,
SIU, 217-545-2819

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