Promising New Test to Measure Brain Function

Jay Buckey, Jr., MD, is a professor of medicine at Geisel, director of the Space Medicine Innovations Laboratory at Dartmouth, and an adjunct professor at the Thayer School of Engineering.

A collaboration between the Geisel School of Medicine and Northwestern University is shedding light on the effects of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) on the central nervous system (CNS). Jay Buckey, Jr., MD, who led the study, says, “We thought we’d find that HIV affects the ear, but what seems to be affected is the brain’s ability to process sound.”

Using tests that measure not whether a person can hear a sound but how the sound is processed by the brain, investigators found that the auditory-neurophysiological responses to certain speech cues were disrupted in HIV-positive adults, even though they performed normally on hearing tests—confirming that these hearing difficulties are grounded in the CNS. Researchers are using auditory processing as a “window” into brain function, which may lead to a better understanding of many disorders that strike the brain—not just HIV.

Buckey says, “We think these tests hold a lot of promise as a way to assess the brain easily and objectively.”