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PLoS One. 2009;4(4):e5183. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005183. Epub 2009 Apr 13.

Functional maps of human auditory cortex: effects of acoustic features and attention.

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Human Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, VANCHCS, Martinez, California, United States of America.



While human auditory cortex is known to contain tonotopically organized auditory cortical fields (ACFs), little is known about how processing in these fields is modulated by other acoustic features or by attention.


We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and population-based cortical surface analysis to characterize the tonotopic organization of human auditory cortex and analyze the influence of tone intensity, ear of delivery, scanner background noise, and intermodal selective attention on auditory cortex activations. Medial auditory cortex surrounding Heschl's gyrus showed large sensory (unattended) activations with two mirror-symmetric tonotopic fields similar to those observed in non-human primates. Sensory responses in medial regions had symmetrical distributions with respect to the left and right hemispheres, were enlarged for tones of increased intensity, and were enhanced when sparse image acquisition reduced scanner acoustic noise. Spatial distribution analysis suggested that changes in tone intensity shifted activation within isofrequency bands. Activations to monaural tones were enhanced over the hemisphere contralateral to stimulation, where they produced activations similar to those produced by binaural sounds. Lateral regions of auditory cortex showed small sensory responses that were larger in the right than left hemisphere, lacked tonotopic organization, and were uninfluenced by acoustic parameters. Sensory responses in both medial and lateral auditory cortex decreased in magnitude throughout stimulus blocks. Attention-related modulations (ARMs) were larger in lateral than medial regions of auditory cortex and appeared to arise primarily in belt and parabelt auditory fields. ARMs lacked tonotopic organization, were unaffected by acoustic parameters, and had distributions that were distinct from those of sensory responses. Unlike the gradual adaptation seen for sensory responses, ARMs increased in amplitude throughout stimulus blocks.


The results are consistent with the view that medial regions of human auditory cortex contain tonotopically organized core and belt fields that map the basic acoustic features of sounds while surrounding higher-order parabelt regions are tuned to more abstract stimulus attributes. Intermodal selective attention enhances processing in neuronal populations that are partially distinct from those activated by unattended stimuli.

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