The relationship between activity within the human auditory cortices and the presentation rate of heard words was investigated by measuring changes in regional cerebral blood flow with positron emission tomography. We demonstrate that in the primary auditory cortices and middle regions of the superior temporal gyri there is a linear relationship between the rate of presentation of heard words and blood flow response. In contrast, the blood flow response in an area of the left posterior superior temporal gyrus (Wernicke's area) is primarily dependent on the occurrence of words irrespective of their rate of presentation. The primary auditory cortices are associated with the early processing of complex acoustic signals whereas Wernicke's area is associated with the comprehension of heard words. This study demonstrates for the first time that time dependent sensory signals (heard words) detected in the primary auditory cortices are transformed into a time invariant output which is channelled to a functionally specialised region--Wernicke's area. Wernicke's area is therefore distinguished from other areas of the auditory cortex by direct observation of signal transformation rather than by association with a specific behavioural task.