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J Neurophysiol. 2000 Sep;84(3):1588-98.

Representation of the temporal envelope of sounds in the human brain.

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Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, London WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.


The cerebral representation of the temporal envelope of sounds was studied in five normal-hearing subjects using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The stimuli were white noise, sinusoidally amplitude-modulated at frequencies ranging from 4 to 256 Hz. This range includes low AM frequencies (up to 32 Hz) essential for the perception of the manner of articulation and syllabic rate, and high AM frequencies (above 64 Hz) essential for the perception of voicing and prosody. The right lower brainstem (superior olivary complex), the right inferior colliculus, the left medial geniculate body, Heschl's gyrus, the superior temporal gyrus, the superior temporal sulcus, and the inferior parietal lobule were specifically responsive to AM. Global tuning curves in these regions suggest that the human auditory system is organized as a hierarchical filter bank, each processing level responding preferentially to a given AM frequency, 256 Hz for the lower brainstem, 32-256 Hz for the inferior colliculus, 16 Hz for the medial geniculate body, 8 Hz for the primary auditory cortex, and 4-8 Hz for secondary regions. The time course of the hemodynamic responses showed sustained and transient components with reverse frequency dependent patterns: the lower the AM frequency the better the fit with a sustained response model, the higher the AM frequency the better the fit with a transient response model. Using cortical maps of best modulation frequency, we demonstrate that the spatial representation of AM frequencies varies according to the response type. Sustained responses yield maps of low frequencies organized in large clusters. Transient responses yield maps of high frequencies represented by a mosaic of small clusters. Very few voxels were tuned to intermediate frequencies (32-64 Hz). We did not find spatial gradients of AM frequencies associated with any response type. Our results suggest that two frequency ranges (up to 16 and 128 Hz and above) are represented in the cortex by different response types. However, the spatial segregation of these two ranges is not systematic. Most cortical regions were tuned to low frequencies and only a few to high frequencies. Yet, voxels that show a preference for low frequencies were also responsive to high frequencies. Overall, our study shows that the temporal envelope of sounds is processed by both distinct (hierarchically organized series of filters) and shared (high and low AM frequencies eliciting different responses at the same cortical locus) neural substrates. This layout suggests that the human auditory system is organized in a parallel fashion that allows a degree of separate routing for groups of AM frequencies conveying different information and preserves a possibility for integration of complementary features in cortical auditory regions.

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