Increased volume and function of right auditory cortex as a marker for absolute pitch

Cereb Cortex. 2014 May;24(5):1127-37. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs391. Epub 2013 Jan 9.


Absolute pitch (AP) perception is the auditory ability to effortlessly recognize the pitch of any given tone without external reference. To study the neural substrates of this rare phenomenon, we developed a novel behavioral test, which excludes memory-based interval recognition and permits quantification of AP proficiency independently of relative pitch cues. AP- and non-AP-possessing musicians were studied with morphological and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography. Gray matter volume of the right Heschl's gyrus (HG) was highly correlated with AP proficiency. Right-hemispheric auditory evoked fields were increased in the AP group. fMRI revealed an AP-dependent network of right planum temporale, secondary somatosensory, and premotor cortices, as well as left-hemispheric "Broca's" area. We propose the right HG as an anatomical marker of AP and suggest that a right-hemispheric network mediates AP "perception," whereas pitch "labeling" takes place in the left hemisphere.

Keywords: Heschl's gyrus; functional magnetic resonance imaging; magnetoencephalography MEG; musicians; planum temporale.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen