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Processing of natural sounds : characterization of multipeak spectral tuning in human auditory cortex

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We examine the mechanisms by which the human auditory cortex processes the frequency content of natural sounds. Through mathematical modeling of ultra-high field (7 T) functional magnetic resonance imaging responses to natural sounds, we derive frequency-tuning curves of cortical neuronal populations. With a data-driven analysis, we divide the auditory cortex into five spatially distributed clusters, each characterized by a spectral tuning profile. Beyond neuronal populations with simple single-peaked spectral tuning (grouped into two clusters), we observe that similar to 60% of auditory populations are sensitive to multiple frequency bands. Specifically, we observe sensitivity to multiple frequency bands (1) at exactly one octave distance from each other, (2) at multiple harmonically related frequency intervals, and (3) with no apparent relationship to each other. We propose that beyond the well known cortical tonotopic organization, multipeaked spectral tuning amplifies selected combinations of frequency bands. Such selective amplification might serve to detect behaviorally relevant and complex sound features, aid in segregating auditory scenes, and explain prominent perceptual phenomena such as octave invariance.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11888-11898
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number29
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013