Altered cortical and subcortical connectivity due to infrasound administered near the hearing threshold – Evidence from fMRI

Altered cortical and subcortical connectivity due to infrasound administered near the hearing threshold – Evidence from fMRI

This study is the first to document changes of brain activity across several regions in response to prolonged near-threshold infrasound using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

ReHo maps
Results of whole-brain contrast regional homogeneity (ReHo) maps acquired during near-threshold vs. no-tone condition.

By Markus Weichenberger , Martin Bauer, Robert Kühler, Johannes Hensel, Caroline Garcia Forlim, Albrecht Ihlenfeld, Bernd Ittermann, Jürgen Gallinat, Christian Koch, Simone Kühn


In the present study, the brain’s response towards near- and supra-threshold infrasound (IS) stimulation (sound frequency < 20 Hz) was investigated under resting-state fMRI conditions.

The study involved two consecutive sessions. In the first session, 14 healthy participants underwent a hearing threshold—as well as a categorical loudness scaling measurement in which the individual loudness perception for IS was assessed across different sound pressure levels (SPL). In the second session, these participants underwent three resting-state acquisitions, one without auditory stimulation (no-tone), one with a monaurally presented 12-Hz IS tone (near-threshold) and one with a similar tone above the individual hearing threshold corresponding to a ‘medium loud’ hearing sensation (supra-threshold).

Data analysis mainly focused on local connectivity measures by means of regional homogeneity (ReHo), but also involved independent component analysis (ICA) to investigate inter-regional connectivity. ReHo analysis revealed significantly higher local connectivity in right superior temporal gyrus (STG) adjacent to primary auditory cortex, in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and, when allowing smaller cluster sizes, also in the right amygdala (rAmyg) during the near-threshold, compared to both the supra-threshold and the no-tone condition. Additional independent component analysis (ICA) revealed large-scale changes of functional connectivity, reflected in a stronger activation of the right amygdala (rAmyg) in the opposite contrast (no-tone > near-threshold) as well as the right superior frontal gyrus (rSFG) during the near-threshold condition.

In summary, this study is the first to demonstrate that infrasound near the hearing threshold may induce changes of neural activity across several brain regions, some of which are known to be involved in auditory processing, while others are regarded as keyplayers in emotional and autonomic control. These findings thus allow us to speculate on how continuous exposure to (sub-)liminal IS could exert a pathogenic influence on the organism, yet further (especially longitudinal) studies are required in order to substantialize these findings.

Full study

Research article of PLoS ONE – April 12, 2017

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