Objective: Multiple amplitude modulation (AM) of a tone results in a time series with a complex structure of envelope fluctuations. In this study the cortical responses elicited by such an auditory stimulus were investigated. It was hypothesized that the auditory cortex responds simultaneously with different patterns of activity corresponding to the different rhythm of periodical stimulus fluctuations. The relations of these response patterns to either steady-state responses (SSR) in the 40 Hz range or the transient slow auditory evoked responses were investigated.
Design: Auditory evoked magnetic fields were recorded from the left temporal cortex of nine healthy humans in response to 250 Hz tones that were amplitude modulated with the sum of two sinusoids of 38 and 40 Hz. The stimulus was presented continuously to the subject's right ear at the intensity of 70 dB sensation level. In addition, the responses to 250 Hz tone-burst stimuli with duration of 20, 50, 100, and 200 msec, respectively, were recorded. The tone-bursts were presented at an inter-stimulus interval (ISI) of 0.5 sec, which was equivalent to the slowest rhythm of the multiple-AM stimulus. Magnetic source analysis was applied to all elicited waveforms.
Results: From all subjects SSR at 38 and 40 Hz were clearly recognizable and were superimposed by a periodical response pattern corresponding to 2 Hz stimulus envelope fluctuations. A positive peak with latency of 70 msec was the mostly pronounced response to tone-burst stimulation at the ISI of 0.5 sec and resembles the low-frequency response pattern to the AM stimulus. The N1-P2 complex showed an almost complete suppression at 0.5 sec ISI. In contrast, it was the most prominent evoked response activity when using a longer ISI of 3 sec. Source locations in overlapping areas were estimated for the SSR in the 40 Hz range, the prominent peak of low-frequency response to the AM stimulus, and the P1 peak at tone-burst stimulation, respectively. These were separated from the N1 source location by about 0.5 cm in anterior and 0.5 cm in medial direction.
Conclusion: As a result of multiple AM the stimulus signal envelope fluctuates with frequencies of 2 Hz and around 40 Hz. The auditory cortex responds to this stimulus with different response patterns. Both modulation signals at 38 and 40 Hz were almost linearly represented as steady-state responses. The evoked response patterns to stimulus fluctuations at low-frequency rhythm resemble the slow cortical auditory evoked responses. The 2 Hz stimulus rhythm is perceived as loudness fluctuation, and 40 Hz modulation is perceived as a rough sound. It is assumed that the different cortical representations correspond to both types of perception of the complex AM sound.