Ph.D. Defense: Neha Hemant Joshi

Tuesday, October 4, 2022
1:00 p.m.
Room 2460, A.V. Williams Building
Maria Hoo
301 405 3681


NAME:  Neha Hemant Joshi


Professor Shihab Shamma, Chair/Advisor
Professor Jonathan Z. Simon
Professor Carol Espy-Wilson
Professor Behtash Babadi
Professor Naomi Feldman (Dean’s Representative)

Date/time:  Tuesday, October 4th, 2022 at 1pm
Location: Room 2460, A.V. Williams Building

Title:  Speech Segregation and Representation in the Ferret Auditory and Frontal Cortices  

The problem of separating overlapping streams of sound, and selectively attending to a sound of interest is ubiquitous in humans and animals alike as a means for survival and communication. This problem, known as the cocktail party problem, is the focus of this thesis, where we explore the neural correlates of two-speaker segregation in the auditory and frontal cortex, using the ferret as an animal model.

While speech segregation has been studied extensively in humans using various non-invasive imaging as well as some restricted invasive techniques, these do not provide a way to obtain neural data at the single-unit level. In animal models, streaming studies have been limited to simple stimuli like tone streams, or sound in noise. In this thesis, we extend this work to understand how complex auditory stimuli such as human speech is encoded at the single-unit and population level in both the auditory cortex, as well as the frontal cortex of the ferret.

In the first part of the thesis, we explore current literature in auditory streaming and design a behavioral task using the ferret as an animal model to perform stream segregation. We train ferrets to selectively listen to one speaker over another, and perform a task to indicate detection of the attended speaker. We show the validity of this behavioral task, and the reliability with which the animal performs this task of two speaker stream segregation. In the second part, we collect neurophysiological data which is post-processed to obtain data from single units in both the auditory cortex (the primary auditory cortex, and the secondary region which includes the dorsal posterior ectosylvian gyrus) as well as the dorsolateral aspect of the frontal cortex of the ferret. We analyse the data and present findings of how the auditory and frontal cortices encode the information required to reliably segregate the speaker of relevance from the mixture of two speakers, and the insights provided into stream segregation mechanisms and the cocktail party solved by animals using neural decoding approaches.

We finally demonstrate that stream segregation has already begun at the level of the primary auditory cortex. In agreement with previous attention-modulated neural studies in the auditory cortex, we show that this stream segregation is more pronounced in the secondary cortex, where we see clear enhancement of the attended speaker, and suppression of the unattended speaker. We explore the contribution of various areas within the primary and secondary regions, and how it relates to speaker selectivity of individual neuronal units. We also study the neural encoding of top-down attention modulation in the ferret frontal cortex. Finally, we discuss the conclusions from these results in the broader context of their relevance to the field, and what future directions it may hold for the field. 


Audience: Graduate  Faculty 

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