To delineate the time course and processing stages of pitch encoding at the level of the supratemporal plane, the present study recorded evoked magnetic fields in response to rippled noise (RN) stimuli. RN largely masks simple tonotopic representations and addresses pitch processing within the temporal domain (periodicity encoding). Four dichotic stimulus types (111 or 133 Hz RN at one ear, white noise to the other one) were applied in randomized order during either visual distraction or selective auditory attention. Strictly periodic signals, noise-like events, and mixtures of both signals served as control conditions. (1) Attention-dependent ear x hemisphere interactions were observed within the time domain of the M50 field, indicating early streaming of auditory information. (2) M100 responses to strictly periodic stimuli were found lateralized to the right hemisphere. Furthermore, the higher-pitched stimuli yielded enhanced activation as compared to the lower-pitch signals (pitch scaling), conceivably reflecting sensory memory operations. (3) Besides right-hemisphere pitch scaling, the relatively late M100 component in association with the RN condition (latency = 136 ms) showed significantly stronger field strengths over the left hemisphere. Control experiments revealed this lateralization effect to be related to noise rather than pitch processing. Furthermore, subtle noise variations interacted with signal periodicity. Obviously, thus, complex task demands such as RN encoding give rise to functional segregation of auditory processing across the two hemispheres (left hemisphere: noise, right hemisphere: periodicity representation). The observed noise/periodicity interactions, furthermore, might reflect pitch-synchronous spectral evaluation at the level of the left supratemporal plane, triggered by right-hemisphere representation of signal periodicity.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Ltd.