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J Neurosci. 2008 May 14;28(20):5281-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0565-08.2008.

Spoken word memory traces within the human auditory cortex revealed by repetition priming and functional magnetic resonance imaging.

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Inserm-Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes-Université de Caen/Basse-Normandie, Unité 923, Groupement d'Intérêt Public Cyceron, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Côte de Nacre, F-14074 Caen, France.


Previous neuroimaging studies in the visual domain have shown that neurons along the perceptual processing pathway retain the physical properties of written words, faces, and objects. The aim of this study was to reveal the existence of similar neuronal properties within the human auditory cortex. Brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging during a repetition priming paradigm, with words and pseudowords heard in an acoustically degraded format. Both the amplitude and peak latency of the hemodynamic response (HR) were assessed to determine the nature of the neuronal signature of spoken word priming. A statistically significant stimulus type by repetition interaction was found in various bilateral auditory cortical areas, demonstrating either HR suppression and enhancement for repeated spoken words and pseudowords, respectively, or word-specific repetition suppression without any significant effects for pseudowords. Repetition latency shift only occurred with word-specific repetition suppression in the right middle/posterior superior temporal sulcus. In this region, both repetition suppression and latency shift were related to behavioral priming. Our findings highlight for the first time the existence of long-term spoken word memory traces within the human auditory cortex. The timescale of auditory information integration and the neuronal mechanisms underlying priming both appear to differ according to the level of representations coded by neurons. Repetition may "sharpen" word-nonspecific representations coding short temporal variations, whereas a complex interaction between the activation strength and temporal integration of neuronal activity may occur in neuronal populations coding word-specific representations within longer temporal windows.

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