Although orderly representations of sound frequency in the brain play a guiding role in the investigation of auditory processing, a rigorous statistical evaluation of cortical tonotopic maps has so far hardly been attempted. In this report, the group-level significance of local tonotopic gradients was assessed using mass-multivariate statistics. The existence of multiple fields on the superior surface of the temporal lobe in both hemispheres was shown. These fields were distinguishable on the basis of tonotopic gradient direction and may likely be identified with the human homologues of the core areas AI and R in primates. Moreover, an objective comparison was made between the usage of volumetric and surface-based registration methods. Although the surface-based method resulted in a better registration across subjects of the grey matter segment as a whole, the alignment of functional subdivisions within the cortical sheet did not appear to improve over volumetric methods. This suggests that the variable relationship between the structural and the functional characteristics of auditory cortex is a limiting factor that cannot be overcome by morphology-based registration techniques alone. Finally, to illustrate how the proposed approach may be used in clinical practice, the method was used to test for focal differences regarding the tonotopic arrangements in healthy controls and tinnitus patients. No significant differences were observed, suggesting that tinnitus does not necessarily require tonotopic reorganisation to occur.
Keywords: auditory cortex; cochleotopy; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); plasticity; registration; tinnitus; tonotopy; topographic maps.
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