Tuning to Binaural Cues in Human Auditory Cortex

J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2016 Feb;17(1):37-53. doi: 10.1007/s10162-015-0546-4.


Interaural level and time differences (ILD and ITD), the primary binaural cues for sound localization in azimuth, are known to modulate the tuned responses of neurons in mammalian auditory cortex (AC). The majority of these neurons respond best to cue values that favor the contralateral ear, such that contralateral bias is evident in the overall population response and thereby expected in population-level functional imaging data. Human neuroimaging studies, however, have not consistently found contralaterally biased binaural response patterns. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to parametrically measure ILD and ITD tuning in human AC. For ILD, contralateral tuning was observed, using both univariate and multivoxel analyses, in posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG) in both hemispheres. Response-ILD functions were U-shaped, revealing responsiveness to both contralateral and—to a lesser degree—ipsilateral ILD values, consistent with rate coding by unequal populations of contralaterally and ipsilaterally tuned neurons. In contrast, for ITD, univariate analyses showed modest contralateral tuning only in left pSTG, characterized by a monotonic response-ITD function. A multivoxel classifier, however, revealed ITD coding in both hemispheres. Although sensitivity to ILD and ITD was distributed in similar AC regions, the differently shaped response functions and different response patterns across hemispheres suggest that basic ILD and ITD processes are not fully integrated in human AC. The results support opponent-channel theories of ILD but not necessarily ITD coding, the latter of which may involve multiple types of representation that differ across hemispheres.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Sound Localization / physiology