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Processing of complex sounds in the auditory cortex of cat, monkey, and man.

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  • Georgetown Institute for Cognitive and Computational Sciences, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA.


One of the fundamental features in the organization of sensory cortices which has emerged from 30 years of research in the visual system is the existence of multiple representation of the sensory world in the cerebral cortex. Compared with the visual system much less information exists about the functional specialization of multiple maps in the central auditory system. This is surprising, since an understanding of central auditory representations seems necessary for an understanding of higher auditory processing, including the perception of speech and the perception of auditory space. We have recorded single neuron activity in higher areas of auditory cortex of cats and rhesus monkeys. In cats, activity was recorded in the caudal part of the anterior ectosylvian (AE) cortex (areas AEA and AAF). More than half of the neurons were clearly tuned to the location of a sound source in azimuth and elevation. Frequency-modulated (FM) sounds elicited best responses at fast rates of modulation. By contrast, neurons in the posterior ectosylvian (PE) areas (PAF, VPAF) responded better to slow FM rates. This suggests a possible specialization for the processing of spatial attributes in the AE cortex, and a possible preference for auditory "patterns" in PE. In macaque monkeys, we explored the question of parallel processing in the higher auditory pathways by combining lesion and anatomical tracer techniques with single unit recording. Inactivation of primary auditory cortex (AI) abolished pure-tone responses in the caudomedial area (CM), but not in the rostral area (R). Injections of retrograde fluorescent tracers into R showed strong labeling of the main, ventral nucleus of the medial geniculate (MGv). Both findings suggest the existence of parallel pathways in the auditory cortex, originating at more peripheral sites and possibly specialized for the processing of auditory space vs. auditory patterns. The auditory pattern pathway in Macaque auditory cortex was further explored by using complex stimuli including Macaque-specific communication sounds. Neurons in the lateral belt areas (AL, ML, and CL) respond very selectively to bandpassed noise stimuli, to FM sounds of a certain rate and direction, as well as to certain classes of monkey calls. We are now in the process of exploring higher areas of human auditory cortex by measuring cortical activation with noninvasive functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while stimulating with complex auditory sounds.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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