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Neural Speech Encoding Mechanisms During the First Year of Infant Development: A Longitudinal EEG Study

Poster B76 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Marta Puertollano1,2,3, Siham Ijjou-Kadiri1,2,3, Natàlia Gorina-Careta3,4, Teresa Ribas-Prats1,2,3, Sonia Arenillas-Alcón1,2,3, Alejandro Mondéjar-Segovia1,2,3, M. Dolores Gómez-Roig3,4, Carles Escera1,2,3; 1Brainlab – Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology, University of Barcelona, Spain, 2Institute of Neurosciences, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, 3Institut de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu (IRSJD), Esplugues de Llobregat (Barcelona), Spain, 4BCNatal – Barcelona Center for Maternal Fetal and Neonatal Medicine (Hospital Sant Joan de Déu and Hospital Clínic), Barcelona, Spain

Language acquisition is a unique expertise that infants are able to master at very early stages of development. Language milestones are well depicted across literature for the first months of age in different populations and languages. However, neural mechanisms underlying these maturational processes are still poorly understood. Here, we use an auditory evoked potential termed frequency-following response (FFR) to unravel the developmental trajectory of the neural encoding of speech sounds during the first year of life. The FFR is generated by periodic sounds such as speech or music, and it allows assessing the tracking accuracy of complex sound features in the auditory pathway. It is sensitive to musical and language experience and it appears disrupted in children with speech or language impairments and neurodevelopmental disorders, which supports the aim of using this response as a possible biomarker for speech encoding impairment and literacy achievements. The FFR was elicited by a tailored two-vowel stimulus /oa/ that allows analyzing the neural encoding of the stimulus envelope and of its temporal fine structure. 41 healthy-term neonates were tested at birth and retested at the ages of 6 and 12 months. Results revealed a shortened neural lag for the first 6 months of development that stabilizes up to the age of 12 months, with a similar trend depicted for the maturation of the stimulus temporal fine structure encoding. Remarkably, no significantly different stimulus envelope encoding was observed across the three time-point measurements. This study adds new knowledge to the literature, describing the rapid maturation of the fine structure encoding abilities, already present at the early age of 6 months. It further contributes to characterize the neural developmental trajectory behind speech perception abilities during the very early stages of life. Results point to a sensitive developmental window in language acquisition occurring during the first 6 months of life, that may underlie the co-occurring critical milestones at that period. This study supports the FFR use to assess early abnormalities that could be associated to later language impairments. Funding: Project PID2021-122255NB-100 (MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033/FEDER,UE), María de Maeztu Center of Excellence CEX2021-001159-M (MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033), the 2021SGR-00356 Consolidated Research Group of the Catalan Government, and the ICREA Acadèmia Distinguished Professorship awarded to Carles Escera.

Topic Areas: Speech Perception, Language Development/Acquisition

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