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Hear Res. 2007 Jul;229(1-2):213-24. Epub 2007 Feb 12.

The cognitive auditory cortex: task-specificity of stimulus representations.

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Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Department of Auditory Learning and Speech, Magdeburg, Germany.


Auditory cortex (AC), like subcortical auditory nuclei, represents properties of auditory stimuli by spatiotemporal activation patterns across neurons. A tacit assumption of AC research has been that the multiplicity of functional maps in primary and secondary areas serves a refined continuation of subcortical stimulus processing, i.e. a parallel orderly analysis of distinct properties of a complex sound. This view, which was mainly derived from exposure to parametric sound variation, may not fully capture the essence of cortical processing. Neocortex, in spite of its parcellation into diverse sensory, motor, associative, and cognitive areas, exhibits a rather stereotyped local architecture. The columnar arrangement of the neocortex and the quantitatively dominant connectivity with numerous other cortical areas are two of its key features. This suggests that cortex has a rather common function which lies beyond those usually leading to the distinction of functional areas. We propose that task-relatedness of the way, how any information can be represented in cortex, is one general consequence of the architecture and corticocortical connectivity. Specifically, this hypothesis predicts different spatiotemporal representations of auditory stimuli when concepts and strategies how these stimuli are analysed do change. We will describe, in an exemplary fashion, cortical patterns of local field potentials in gerbil, of unit spiking activity in monkey, and of fMRI signals in human AC during the execution of different tasks mainly in the realm of category formation of sounds. We demonstrate that the representations reflect context- and memory-related, conceptual and executional aspects of a task and that they can predict the behavioural outcome.

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