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The brain possesses a remarkable capacity to compensate for changes in inputs resulting from a range of sensory impairments. Developmental studies of sound localization have shown that adaptation to asymmetric hearing loss can be achieved either by reinterpreting altered spatial cues or by relying more on those cues that remain intact. Adaptation to monaural deprivation in adulthood is also possible, but appears to lack such flexibility. Here we show, however, that appropriate behavioral training enables monaurally-deprived adult humans to exploit both of these adaptive processes. Moreover, cortical recordings in ferrets reared with asymmetric hearing loss suggest that these forms of plasticity have distinct neural substrates. An ability to adapt to asymmetric hearing loss using multiple adaptive processes is therefore shared by different species and may persist throughout the lifespan. This highlights the fundamental flexibility of neural systems, and may also point toward novel therapeutic strategies for treating sensory disorders.

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adult plasticity, hearing loss, human, neuroscience, sound localization