Noise sensitivity visible in brain MRI

As the old rock-n-roll cliché goes, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” But Swedish researchers, with the help of MRI, have found brain structure and gray matter—which can be affected by age—might have something to do with an individual’s sensitivity to noise.

A study, led by Marina Kliuchko, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki in Finland, was published Nov. 22 in the journal NeuroImage. The researchers examined brain MRIs of 80 individuals—39 males and 41 females with a median age of 28.8 years—to see if noise sensitivity is associated with gray matter and the central auditory system.

"We found greater gray matter volume in people with high noise sensitivity in the brain temporal regions, as well as the hippocampus and the right insula. These cortical and subcortical areas are parts of brain networks supporting listening experience," wrote Kliuchko et al.

Participants completed a questionnaire related to noise sensitivity, with results compared to MRI analysis for eight separate areas in the brain. Sensitivity was associated with gray matter volume, which also decreased with age. Analysis also shows that cortical thickness, folding or area were not affected by noise sensitivity.

“Noise sensitivity was positively associated with the volume of the left and right hippocampus,” Kliuchko et al. wrote. “The primary role of the hippocampus is related to memory and learning; however, it has been reported to participate in the processing of the emotional content of music and identification of stimulus novelty as well.”