fMRI of the auditory system: understanding the neural basis of auditory gestalt

Magn Reson Imaging. 2003 Dec;21(10):1213-24. doi: 10.1016/j.mri.2003.08.023.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has rapidly become the most widely used imaging method for studying brain functions in humans. This is a result of its extreme flexibility of use and of the astonishingly detailed spatial and temporal information it provides. Nevertheless, until very recently, the study of the auditory system has progressed at a considerably slower pace compared to other functional systems. Several factors have limited fMRI research in the auditory field, including some intrinsic features of auditory functional anatomy and some peculiar interactions between fMRI technique and audition. A well known difficulty arises from the high intensity acoustic noise produced by gradient switching in echo-planar imaging (EPI), as well as in other fMRI sequences more similar to conventional MR sequences. The acoustic noise interacts in an unpredictable way with the experimental stimuli both from a perceptual point of view and in the evoked hemodynamics. To overcome this problem, different approaches have been proposed recently that generally require careful tailoring of the experimental design and the fMRI methodology to the specific requirements posed by the auditory research. The novel methodological approaches can make the fMRI exploration of auditory processing much easier and more reliable, and thus may permit filling the gap with other fields of neuroscience research. As a result, some fundamental neural underpinnings of audition are being clarified, and the way sound stimuli are integrated in the auditory gestalt are beginning to be understood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Echo-Planar Imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Noise