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Curr Biol. 2008 Dec 9;18(23):1855-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.052.

Task-dependent modulation of medial geniculate body is behaviorally relevant for speech recognition.

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  • 1Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK.


Recent work has shown that responses in first-order sensory thalamic nuclei are modulated by cortical areas. However, the functional role of such corticothalamic modulation and its relevance for human perception is still unclear. Here, we show in two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that the neuronal response in the first-order auditory thalamus, the medial geniculate body (MGB), is increased when rapidly varying spectrotemporal features of speech sounds are processed, as compared to processing slowly varying spectrotemporal features of the same sounds. The strength of this task-dependent modulation is positively correlated with the speech recognition scores of individual subjects. These results show that task-dependent modulation of the MGB serves the processing of specific features of speech sounds and is behaviorally relevant for speech recognition. Our findings suggest that the first-order auditory thalamus is not simply a nonspecific gatekeeper controlled by attention. Together with studies in nonhuman mammals, our findings imply a mechanism in which the first-order auditory thalamus, possibly by corticothalamic modulation, reacts adaptively to features of sensory input.

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