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Early processing of pitch in the human auditory system

Authors

  • Kimmo Alho,

    1. Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior (IR3C), University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
    2. Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology, Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
    3. Division of Cognitive Psychology & Neuropsychology, Institute of Behavioral Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 9, FI 00014 Helsinki, Finland
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  • Sabine Grimm,

    1. Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior (IR3C), University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
    2. Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology, Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
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  • Sabina Mateo-León,

    1. Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior (IR3C), University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
    2. Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology, Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
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  • Jordi Costa-Faidella,

    1. Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior (IR3C), University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
    2. Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology, Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
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  • Carles Escera

    1. Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior (IR3C), University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
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Kimmo Alho, 3Division of Cognitive Psychology & Neuropsychology, as above.
E-mail: kimmo.alho@helsinki.fi

Abstract

Middle-latency auditory evoked potentials, indicating early cortical processing, elicited by pitch changes and repetitions in pure tones and by complex tones with a missing-fundamental pitch were recorded in healthy adults ignoring the sounds while watching a silenced movie. Both for the pure and for the missing-fundamental tones, the Nb middle-latency response was larger for pitch changes (tones preceded by tones of different pitch) than for pitch repetitions (tones preceded by tones of the same pitch). This Nb enhancement was observed even for missing-fundamental tones preceded by repeated tones that had a different missing-fundamental pitch but included all harmonics of the subsequent tone with another missing-fundamental pitch. This finding rules out the possibility that the Nb enhancement in response to a change in missing-fundamental pitch was simply attributable to the activity of auditory cortex neurons responding specifically to the harmonics of missing-fundamental tones. The Nb effect presumably indicates pitch processing at or near the primary auditory cortex, and it was followed by a change-related enhancement of the N1 response, presumably generated in the secondary auditory cortex. This N1 enhancement might have been caused by a mismatch negativity response overlapping with the N1 response. Processing of missing-fundamental pitch was also reflected by the distribution of Nb responses. Tones with a higher missing-fundamental pitch elicited more frontally dominant Nb responses than tones with a lower missing-fundamental pitch. This effect of pitch, not seen for the pure tones, might indicate that the exact location of the Nb generator source in the auditory cortex depends on the missing-fundamental pitch of the eliciting tone.

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