Perceptual organization of sound begins in the auditory periphery

Curr Biol. 2008 Aug 5;18(15):1124-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.053. Epub 2008 Jul 24.


Segmenting the complex acoustic mixture that makes a typical auditory scene into relevant perceptual objects is one of the main challenges of the auditory system [1], for both human and nonhuman species. Several recent studies indicate that perceptual auditory object formation, or "streaming," may be based on neural activity within the auditory cortex and beyond [2, 3]. Here, we find that scene analysis starts much earlier in the auditory pathways. Single units were recorded from a peripheral structure of the mammalian auditory brainstem, the cochlear nucleus. Peripheral responses were similar to cortical responses and displayed all of the functional properties required for streaming, including multisecond adaptation. Behavioral streaming was also measured in human listeners. Neurometric functions derived from the peripheral responses predicted accurately behavioral streaming. This reveals that subcortical structures may already contribute to the analysis of auditory scenes. This finding is consistent with the observation that species lacking a neocortex can still achieve and benefit from behavioral streaming [4]. For humans, we argue that auditory scene analysis of complex scenes is probably based on interactions between subcortical and cortical neural processes, with the relative contribution of each stage depending on the nature of the acoustic cues forming the streams.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Cochlear Nucleus / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Sound