Is it tonotopy after all?

Neuroimage. 2002 Nov;17(3):1144-61. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2002.1250.


In this functional MRI study the frequency-dependent localization of acoustically evoked BOLD responses within the human auditory cortex was investigated. A blocked design was employed, consisting of periods of tonal stimulation (random frequency modulations with center frequencies 0.25, 0.5, 4.0, and 8.0 kHz) and resting periods during which only the ambient scanner noise was audible. Multiple frequency-dependent activation sites were reliably demonstrated on the surface of the auditory cortex. The individual gyral pattern of the superior temporal plane (STP), especially the anatomy of Heschl's gyrus (HG), was found to be the major source of interindividual variability. Considering this variability by tracking the frequency responsiveness to the four stimulus frequencies along individual Heschl's gyri yielded medio-lateral gradients of responsiveness to high frequencies medially and low frequencies laterally. It is, however, argued that with regard to the results of electrophysiological and cytoarchitectonical studies in humans and in nonhuman primates, the multiple frequency-dependent activation sites found in the present study as well as in other recent fMRI investigations are no direct indication of tonotopic organization of cytoarchitectonical areas. An alternative interpretation is that the activation sites correspond to different cortical fields, the topological organization of which cannot be resolved with the current spatial resolution of fMRI. In this notion, the detected frequency selectivity of different cortical areas arises from an excess of neurons engaged in the processing of different acoustic features, which are associated with different frequency bands. Differences in the response properties of medial compared to lateral and frontal compared to occipital portions of HG strongly support this notion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Artifacts
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Sound Spectrography


  • Oxygen