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J Acoust Soc Am. 2008 Apr;123(4):2191-9. doi: 10.1121/1.2888489.

Cortical sensitivity to periodicity of speech sounds.

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Department of Signal Processing and Acoustics, Helsinki University of Technology, PO Box 3300, FI-02015 TKK, Finland.


Previous non-invasive brain research has reported auditory cortical sensitivity to periodicity as reflected by larger and more anterior responses to periodic than to aperiodic vowels. The current study investigated whether there is a lower fundamental frequency (F0) limit for this effect. Auditory evoked fields (AEFs) elicited by natural-sounding 400 ms periodic and aperiodic vowel stimuli were measured with magnetoencephalography. Vowel F0 ranged from normal male speech (113 Hz) to exceptionally low values (9 Hz). Both the auditory N1m and sustained fields were larger in amplitude for periodic than for aperiodic vowels. The AEF sources for periodic vowels were also anterior to those for the aperiodic vowels. Importantly, the AEF amplitudes and locations were unaffected by the F0 decrement of the periodic vowels. However, the N1m latency increased monotonically as F0 was decreased down to 19 Hz, below which this trend broke down. Also, a cascade of transient N1m-like responses was observed in the lowest F0 condition. Thus, the auditory system seems capable of extracting the periodicity even from very low F0 vowels. The behavior of the N1m latency and the emergence of a response cascade at very low F0 values may reflect the lower limit of pitch perception.

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