Activity in human auditory cortex represents spatial separation between concurrent sounds

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Abstract

The primary and posterior auditory cortex (AC) are known for their sensitivity to spatial information, but how this information is processed is not yet understood. AC that is sensitive to spatial manipulations is also modulated by the number of auditory streams present in a scene (Smith et al., 2010), suggesting that spatial and nonspatial cues are integrated for stream segregation. We reasoned that, if this is the case, then it is the distance between sounds rather than their absolute positions that is essential. To test this hypothesis, we measured human brain activity in response to spatially separated concurrent sounds with fMRI at 7 tesla in five men and five women. Stimuli were spatialized amplitude-modulated broadband noises recorded for each participant via in-ear microphones before scanning. Using a linear support vector machine classifier, we investigated whether sound location and/or location plus spatial separation between sounds could be decoded from the activity in Heschl's gyrus and the planum temporale. The classifier was successful only when comparing patterns associated with the conditions that had the largest difference in perceptual spatial separation. Our pattern of results suggests that the representation of spatial separation is not merely the combination of single locations, but rather is an independent feature of the auditory scene. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Often, when we think of auditory spatial information, we think of where sounds are coming from-that is, the process of localization. However, this information can also be used in scene analysis, the process of grouping and segregating features of a soundwave into objects. Essentially, when sounds are further apart, they are more likely to be segregated into separate streams. Here, we provide evidence that activity in the human auditory cortex represents the spatial separation between sounds rather than their absolute locations, indicating that scene analysis and localization processes may be independent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4977-4984
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume38
Issue number21
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2018

Keywords

  • auditory cortex
  • auditory scene analysis
  • fMRI
  • multivariate pattern analysis
  • spatial cognition
  • CORTICAL-NEURONS
  • SOURCE LOCATION
  • STREAM SEGREGATION
  • PLANUM TEMPORALE
  • HUMAN LISTENERS
  • ACOUSTIC SPACE
  • LOCALIZATION
  • POPULATIONS
  • INTENSITY
  • PATTERNS

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