We investigated the behavioral consequences of removing the pinna and concha of the external ear bilaterally in infancy on the sound localization ability of adult ferrets. Altering spectral cues in this manner has previously been shown to disrupt the development of the neural representation of auditory space in the superior colliculus. Using broadband noise stimuli, we tested pinnae-removed ferrets and normal ferrets in three sound localization tasks. In each case, we found that both groups of animals performed significantly better when longer duration noise bursts were used. In a relative localization task, we measured the acuity with which the ferrets could discriminate between two speakers in the horizontal plane. The speakers were placed symmetrically either around the anterior midline or around a position 45 degrees lateral to the midline. In this task, the pinnae-removed ferrets achieved very similar scores to the normal ferrets. By contrast, in another relative localization task that measured localization ability in the midsagittal plane, pinnae-removed ferrets performed less well than normals. In an absolute localization task, 12 speakers were spaced at 30 degrees intervals in the horizontal plane at the level of the ferrets' ears. Overall, the pinnae-removed ferrets also performed poorly in this task compared with normal ferrets: they made significantly fewer correct responses, larger localization errors and more front-back errors. Both normal and pinnae-removed animals showed an improvement in performance with practice, although the pattern of improvement differed for each group. The largest improvements in localization accuracy were achieved by the pinnae-removed ferrets, particularly at the frontal positions, and their performance eventually approached that of the normal animals. Nevertheless, some intergroup differences were still present. In particular, the pinnae-removed ferrets continued to make significantly more front-back errors than the normals. These deficits can be attributed to differences in the spectral localization cues available to the animals. Acoustical measurements showed that, compared with normal animals, the head-related transfer functions in the horizontal plane were largely ambiguous around the interaural axis and also contained fewer location-dependent features in the midsagittal plane.
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Acoustic Stimulation, Aging, Animals, Auditory Pathways, Auditory Perception, Brain Stem, Cues, Ear, External, Female, Ferrets, Male, Neurons, Sound Localization, Space Perception, Superior Colliculi