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J Neurosci. 2002 Feb 15;22(4):RC211.

Distinct gamma-band evoked responses to speech and non-speech sounds in humans.

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  • 1Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland.


To understand spoken language, the human brain must have fast mechanisms for the representation and identification of speech sounds. Stimulus-induced synchronization of neural activity at gamma frequencies (20-80 Hz), occurring in humans at 200-300 msec from stimulus onset, has been suggested to be a possible mechanism for neural object representation. Auditory and visual stimuli also evoke an earlier (peak <100 msec) gamma oscillation, but its dependence on high-level stimulus parameters and, thereby, its involvement in object representation has remained unclear. Using whole-scalp magnetoencephalography, we show here that responses evoked by speech and non-speech sounds differed in the gamma-frequency but not in the low-frequency (0.1-20 Hz) band as early as 40-60 msec from stimulus onset. The gamma-band responses to the speech sound peaked earlier in the left than in the right hemisphere, whereas those to the non-speech sound peaked earlier in the right hemisphere. For the speech sound, there was no difference in the response amplitude between the hemispheres at low (20-45 Hz) gamma frequencies, whereas for the non-speech sound, the amplitude was larger in the right hemisphere. These results suggest that evoked gamma-band activity may indeed be sensitive to high-level stimulus properties and may hence reflect the neural representation of speech sounds. Consequently, speech-specific neuronal processing may commence no later than 40-60 msec from stimulus onset, possibly in the form of activation of language-specific memory traces.

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