Harmonic template neurons in primate auditory cortex underlying complex sound processing

Lei Feng, Xiaoqin Wang

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54 Scopus citations


Harmonicity is a fundamental element of music, speech, and animal vocalizations. How the auditory system extracts harmonic structures embedded in complex sounds and uses them to form a coherent unitary entity is not fully understood. Despite the prevalence of sounds rich in harmonic structures in our everyday hearing environment, it has remained largely unknownwhat neuralmechanisms are used by the primate auditory cortex to extract these biologically important acoustic structures. In this study, we discovered a unique class of harmonic template neurons in the core region of auditory cortex of a highly vocal NewWorld primate, the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), across the entire hearing frequency range. Marmosets have a rich vocal repertoire and a similar hearing range to that of humans. Responses of these neurons show nonlinear facilitation to harmonic complex sounds over inharmonic sounds, selectivity for particular harmonic structures beyond two-tone combinations, and sensitivity to harmonic number and spectral regularity. Our findings suggest that the harmonic template neurons in auditory cortex may play an important role in processing sounds with harmonic structures, such as animal vocalizations, human speech, and music.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E840-E848
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 31 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIH Grant R01DC03180 (to X.W.).


  • Auditory cortex
  • Harmonic
  • Hearing
  • Marmoset
  • Music


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