Coding of sound location in auditory cortex (AC) is only partially understood. Recent electrophysiological research suggests that neurons in mammalian auditory cortex are characterized by broad spatial tuning and a preference for the contralateral hemifield, that is, a nonuniform sampling of sound azimuth. Additionally, spatial selectivity decreases with increasing sound intensity. To accommodate these findings, it has been proposed that sound location is encoded by the integrated activity of neuronal populations with opposite hemifield tuning ("opponent channel model"). In this study, we investigated the validity of such a model in human AC with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a phase-encoding paradigm employing binaural stimuli recorded individually for each participant. In all subjects, we observed preferential fMRI responses to contralateral azimuth positions. Additionally, in most AC locations, spatial tuning was broad and not level invariant. We derived an opponent channel model of the fMRI responses by subtracting the activity of contralaterally tuned regions in bilateral planum temporale. This resulted in accurate decoding of sound azimuth location, which was unaffected by changes in sound level. Our data thus support opponent channel coding as a neural mechanism for representing acoustic azimuth in human AC.
Keywords: auditory; fMRI; opponent coding; planum temporale; sound localization.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press.