Attention Modulates the Auditory Cortical Processing of Spatial and Category Cues in Naturalistic Auditory Scenes

Hanna Renvall, Noel Staeren, Claudia S. Barz, Anke Ley, Elia Formisano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

This combined fMRI and MEG study investigated brain activations during listening and attending to natural auditory scenes. We first recorded, using in ear microphones, vocal non-speech sounds, and environmental sounds that were mixed to construct auditory scenes containing two concurrent sound streams. During the brain measurements, subjects attended to one of the streams while spatial acoustic information of the scene was either preserved (stereophonic sounds) or removed (monophonic sounds). Compared to monophonic sounds, stereophonic sounds evoked larger blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI responses in the bilateral posterior superior temporal areas, independent of which stimulus attribute the subject was attending to. This finding is consistent with the functional role of these regions in the (automatic) processing of auditory spatial cues. Additionally, significant differences in the cortical activation patterns depending on the target of attention were observed. Bilateral planum temporale and inferior frontal gyrus were preferentially activated when attending to stereophonic environmental sounds, whereas when subjects attended to stereophonic voice sounds, the BOLD responses were larger at the bilateral middle superior temporal gyrus and sulcus, previously reported to show voice sensitivity. In contrast, the time-resolved MEG responses were stronger for mono- than stereophonic sounds in the bilateral auditory cortices at similar to 360 ms after the stimulus onset when attending to the voice excerpts within the combined sounds. The observed effects suggest that during the segregation of auditory objects from the auditory background, spatial sound cues together with other relevant temporal and spectral cues are processed in an attention-dependent manner at the cortical locations generally involved in sound recognition. More synchronous neuronal activation during monophonic than stereophonic sound processing, as well as (local) neuronal inhibitory mechanisms in the auditory cortex, may explain the simultaneous increase of BOLD responses and decrease of MEG responses. These findings highlight the complimentary role of electrophysiological and hemodynamic measures in addressing brain processing of complex stimuli.
Original languageEnglish
Article number254
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Volume10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2016

Keywords

  • auditory scene analysis
  • auditory cortex (AC)
  • fMRI BOLD
  • magnetoencephalography (MEG)
  • auditory attention

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