The primate cortical auditory system and neural representation of conspecific vocalizations

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2009;32:315-46. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.051508.135431.


Over the past decade, renewed interest in the auditory system has resulted in a surge of anatomical and physiological research in the primate auditory cortex and its targets. Anatomical studies have delineated multiple areas in and around primary auditory cortex and demonstrated connectivity among these areas, as well as between these areas and the rest of the cortex, including prefrontal cortex. Physiological recordings of auditory neurons have found that species-specific vocalizations are useful in probing the selectivity and potential functions of acoustic neurons. A number of cortical regions contain neurons that are robustly responsive to vocalizations, and some auditory responsive neurons show more selectivity for vocalizations than for other complex sounds. Demonstration of selectivity for vocalizations has prompted the question of which features are encoded by higher-order auditory neurons. Results based on detailed studies of the structure of these vocalizations, as well as the tuning and information-coding properties of neurons sensitive to these vocalizations, have begun to provide answers to this question. In future studies, these and other methods may help to define the way in which cells, ensembles, and brain regions process communication sounds. Moreover, the discovery that several nonprimary auditory cortical regions may be multisensory and responsive to vocalizations with corresponding facial gestures may change the way in which we view the processing of communication information by the auditory system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*