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

Michelle Moerel, Federico De Martino, Roberta Santoro, Kamil Ugurbil, Rainer Goebel, Essa Yacoub, Elia Formisano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

47 Scopus citations


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 frequencytuning 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 ~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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11888-11898
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 26 2013

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