The neuronal representation of pitch in primate auditory cortex

Nature. 2005 Aug 25;436(7054):1161-5. doi: 10.1038/nature03867.


Pitch perception is critical for identifying and segregating auditory objects, especially in the context of music and speech. The perception of pitch is not unique to humans and has been experimentally demonstrated in several animal species. Pitch is the subjective attribute of a sound's fundamental frequency (f(0)) that is determined by both the temporal regularity and average repetition rate of its acoustic waveform. Spectrally dissimilar sounds can have the same pitch if they share a common f(0). Even when the acoustic energy at f(0) is removed ('missing fundamental') the same pitch is still perceived. Despite its importance for hearing, how pitch is represented in the cerebral cortex is unknown. Here we show the existence of neurons in the auditory cortex of marmoset monkeys that respond to both pure tones and missing fundamental harmonic complex sounds with the same f(0), providing a neural correlate for pitch constancy. These pitch-selective neurons are located in a restricted low-frequency cortical region near the anterolateral border of the primary auditory cortex, and is consistent with the location of a pitch-selective area identified in recent imaging studies in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / cytology*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Callithrix / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pitch Discrimination / physiology*