Response properties of the human frequency-following response (FFR) to speech and non-speech sounds: level dependence, adaptation and phase-locking limits


Objective: The frequency-following response (FFR) is a neurophonic potential used to assess auditory neural encoding at subcortical stages. Despite the FFR’s empirical and clinical utility, basic response properties of this evoked potential remain undefined. Design: We measured FFRs to speech and nonspeech (pure tone, chirp sweeps) stimuli to quantify three key properties of this potential: level-dependence (I/O functions), adaptation and the upper limit of neural phase-locking. Study sample:n = 13 normal-hearing listeners. Results: I/O functions showed FFR amplitude increased with increasing stimulus presentation level between 25 and 80 dB SPL; FFR growth was steeper for tones than speech when measured at the same frequency. FFR latency decreased 4–5 ms with decreasing presentation level from 25 and 80 dB SPL but responses were ∼2 ms earlier for speech than tones. FFR amplitudes showed a 50% reduction over 6 min of recording with the strongest adaptation in the first 60 s (250 trials). Estimates of neural synchronisation revealed FFRs contained measurable phase-locking up to ∼1200–1300 Hz, slightly higher than the single neuron limit reported in animal models. Conclusions: Findings detail fundamental response properties that will be important for using FFRs in clinical and empirical applications.

Publication Title

International Journal of Audiology