Sensitivity and selectivity of neurons in auditory cortex to the pitch, timbre, and location of sounds.
Bizley JK., Walker KM.
We are able to rapidly recognize and localize the many sounds in our environment. We can describe any of these sounds in terms of various independent "features" such as their loudness, pitch, or position in space. However, we still know surprisingly little about how neurons in the auditory brain, specifically the auditory cortex, might form representations of these perceptual characteristics from the information that the ear provides about sound acoustics. In this article, the authors examine evidence that the auditory cortex is necessary for processing the pitch, timbre, and location of sounds, and document how neurons across multiple auditory cortical fields might represent these as trains of action potentials. They conclude by asking whether neurons in different regions of the auditory cortex might not be simply sensitive to each of these three sound features but whether they might be selective for one of them. The few studies that have examined neural sensitivity to multiple sound attributes provide only limited support for neural selectivity within auditory cortex. Providing an explanation of the neural basis of feature invariance is thus one of the major challenges to sensory neuroscience obtaining the ultimate goal of understanding how neural firing patterns in the brain give rise to perception.