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Adaptation is an essential feature of auditory neurons, which reduces their responses to unchanging and recurring sounds and allows their response properties to be matched to the constantly changing statistics of sounds that reach the ears. As a consequence, processing in the auditory system highlights novel or unpredictable sounds and produces an efficient representation of the vast range of sounds that animals can perceive by continually adjusting the sensitivity and, to a lesser extent, the tuning properties of neurons to the most commonly encountered stimulus values. Together with attentional modulation, adaptation to sound statistics also helps to generate neural representations of sound that are tolerant to background noise and therefore plays a vital role in auditory scene analysis. In this review, we consider the diverse forms of adaptation that are found in the auditory system in terms of the processing levels at which they arise, the underlying neural mechanisms and their impact on neural coding and perception. We also ask what the dynamics of adaptation, which can occur over multiple timescales, reveal about the statistical properties of the environment. Finally, we examine how adaptation to sound statistics is influenced by learning and experience and changes as a result of aging and hearing loss.

Original publication




Journal article


Physiol Rev

Publication Date



Adaptation, Adaptive coding, Auditory, Cortex, Sound statistics