Jennifer R. Melcher, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School
Director, Auditory Imaging Unit, Eaton-Peabody Laboratories
Director, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Tinnitus Center
My doctoral thesis used a combination of neuroanatomical, neurophysiological and neuronal modeling techniques to identify specific neuronal populations generating a widely measured, but poorly understood brainstem evoked response, the ABR. The implications of this work were many, but one was especially exciting; a specific subset of brainstem neurons was implicated in something we do all the time - integrate the sound reaching our two ears into one coherent perception. To this day, I remain centrally interested in how the brain determines what we (i.e., listening humans) hear.
Recognizing the possibilities offered by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for understanding human listening, I formed the Auditory Imaging Unit shortly after completing my doctorate. Since fMRI was in its infancy at the time, much of the unit’s early work involved surmounting technical hurdles, including those imposed by the acoustically hostile MRI environment. This groundwork gave way to investigations showing ways that both physical and perceptual aspects of sound are represented in the brain.
Much of my current work focuses on the clinical problem of tinnitus, the perception of sound in the absence of any physical stimulus. This recent translational turn of my research was motivated a longstanding desire to focus my scientific efforts on a clinically significant problem begging for effective treatments. Our team in the Tinnitus Research Unit uses approaches ranging from neuroimaging to neuronal modeling to understand tinnitus with the goal of treating it.
1. Melcher JR, Kiang NYS. Generators of the brainstem auditory evoked potential in cat III: identified cell populations. Hear. Res. 1996; 93: 52 - 71.
2. Penagos, H., Melcher, J.R., Oxenham, A.J. A neural representation of pitch salience in nonprimary human auditory cortex revealed with functional magnetic resonance imaging. J. Neurosci. 2004; 24: 6810-6815.
3. Sigalovsky, I. S., Fischl, B., Melcher, J.R. Mapping an intrinsic MR property of gray matter in auditory cortex of living humans: A possible marker for primary cortex and hemispheric differences. NeuroImage. 2006;1524 - 1537.
4. Wilson, E.C., Melcher J.R., Micheyl, C., Gutschalk, A., Oxenham, A.J. Cortical fMRI activation to sequences of tones alternating in frequency: relationship to perceived rate and streaming. J. Neurophysiol. 2007; 2230 - 2238.