Mismatch negativity (MMN) is an auditory event-related potential (ERP) that reflects automatic stimulus discrimination in the human auditory system. By varying the interstimulus intervals (ISIs), the MMN can be used as an index of auditory sensory memory. This paper focuses on MMN findings in aging and in Alzheimer’s (AD) and Parkinson’s diseases (PD). The accumulated data suggest that MMN to duration deviance, unlike MMN to frequency deviance, is reduced in amplitude in aging at short ISIs. The attenuated MMN to frequency deviance observed at long ISIs in elderly subjects seems to be caused by age-related memory trace decay. Existing results suggest that automatic discrimination for the frequency change is not affected in the early phase of AD, whereas the memory trace seems to decay faster in AD patients. The present findings on PD are not as conclusive, although they tentatively suggest deteriorated automatic change detection. The MMN appears to offer an objective tool for studying auditory processing and memory trace decay in different neurological disorders.
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