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Daniel B. Polley, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School

Lab website: 

Dr. Daniel Polley is a principal investigator with the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear, where the focus of his research is on functional rewiring of brain regions that process sound. Dr. Polley received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Richmond (1996), a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine (2001) and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco (2005). Dr. Polley was an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine before joining Massachusetts Eye and Ear in 2010.  

Research Interests: Research in the Neural Plasticity group focuses on the mechanisms and therapeutic potential of auditory brain plasticity. Brain plasticity (or neuroplasticity) is the science of brain change. Of all the organs in our body, the brain possesses a unique capacity to change its basic composition in response to our experiences, be they catastrophic, such as injury, or subtle and natural, such as infant learning. This remarkable plasticity is offset by an equally remarkable capacity for maintaining constancy in the face of a fluctuating and unpredictable sensory world. How do brain circuits maintain this critical balance between plasticity and stability? Can the brain’s ability to change itself be harnessed and directed for therapeutic benefit?

We believe this class of study will contribute towards a richer understanding of normal function, but might also hold the key for remediating abnormal auditory signal processing following a history of compromised hearing or deafness in early life. As with any communicative system, hearing arises through the interaction of an emitter (the cochlea) and a receiver (the central auditory system). In the context of hearing loss, a great deal of work is directed towards improving or reinstating outgoing signals from the emitter through amplification devices, cochlear implants and even hair cell replacement. Far less is known about the flip side of the coin: whether additional recovery of function might be possible by “tuning up” the receiver. A major goal for our group is to understand how brain plasticity can be utilized to improve auditory sensitivity and acuity in individuals with subnormal hearing.