Pitch vs. spectral encoding of harmonic complex tones in primary auditory cortex of the awake monkey

Yonatan I. Fishman, David H. Reser, Joseph C. Arezzo, Mitchell Steinschneider

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Neuromagnetic studies in humans and single-unit studies in monkeys have provided conflicting views regarding the role of primary auditory cortex (A1) in pitch encoding. While the former support a topographic organization based on the pitch of complex tones, single-unit studies support the classical tonotopic organization of A1 defined by the spectral composition of the stimulus. It is unclear whether the incongruity of these findings is due to limitations of noninvasive recordings or whether the discrepancy genuinely reflects pitch representation based on population encoding. To bridge these experimental approaches, we examined neuronal ensemble responses in A1 of the awake monkey using auditory evoked potential (AEP), multiple-unit activity (MUA) and current source density (CSD) techniques. Macaque monkeys can perceive the missing fundamental of harmonic complex tones and therefore serve as suitable animal models for studying neural encoding of pitch. Pure tones and harmonic complex tones missing the fundamental frequency (f0) were presented at 60 dB SPL to the ear contralateral to the hemisphere from which recordings were obtained. Laminar response profiles in A1 reflected the spectral content rather than the pitch (missing f0) of the compound stimuli. These findings are consistent with single-unit data and indicate that the cochleotopic organization is preserved at the level of A1. Thus, it appears that pitch encoding of multi-component sounds is more complex than suggested by noninvasive studies, which are based on the assumption of a single dipole generator within the superior temporal gyms. These results support a pattern recognition mechanism of pitch encoding based on a topographic representation of stimulus spectral composition at the level of A1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-30
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Current source density
  • Monkey
  • Multiunit activity
  • Pitch encoding
  • Primary auditory cortex
  • Tonotopic organization

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