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Curr Biol. 2011 Aug 23;21(16):1408-15. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.07.028. Epub 2011 Aug 11.

Voice cells in the primate temporal lobe.

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Department of Physiology of Cognitive Processes, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Communication signals are important for social interactions and survival and are thought to receive specialized processing in the visual and auditory systems. Whereas the neural processing of faces by face clusters and face cells has been repeatedly studied [1-5], less is known about the neural representation of voice content. Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have localized voice-preferring regions in the primate temporal lobe [6, 7], but the hemodynamic response cannot directly assess neurophysiological properties. We investigated the responses of neurons in an fMRI-identified voice cluster in awake monkeys, and here we provide the first systematic evidence for voice cells. "Voice cells" were identified, in analogy to "face cells," as neurons responding at least 2-fold stronger to conspecific voices than to "nonvoice" sounds or heterospecific voices. Importantly, whereas face clusters are thought to contain high proportions of face cells [4] responding broadly to many faces [1, 2, 4, 5, 8-10], we found that voice clusters contain moderate proportions of voice cells. Furthermore, individual voice cells exhibit high stimulus selectivity. The results reveal the neurophysiological bases for fMRI-defined voice clusters in the primate brain and highlight potential differences in how the auditory and visual systems generate selective representations of communication signals.

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