Reverse Engineering Tone-Deafness: Disrupting Pitch-Matching by Creating Temporary Dysfunctions in the Auditory-Motor Network

Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 Jan 30;12:9. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00009. eCollection 2018.


Perceiving and producing vocal sounds are important functions of the auditory-motor system and are fundamental to communication. Prior studies have identified a network of brain regions involved in pitch production, specifically pitch matching. Here we reverse engineer the function of the auditory perception-production network by targeting specific cortical regions (e.g., right and left posterior superior temporal (pSTG) and posterior inferior frontal gyri (pIFG)) with cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)-commonly found to decrease excitability in the underlying cortical region-allowing us to causally test the role of particular nodes in this network. Performance on a pitch-matching task was determined before and after 20 min of cathodal stimulation. Acoustic analyses of pitch productions showed impaired accuracy after cathodal stimulation to the left pIFG and the right pSTG in comparison to sham stimulation. Both regions share particular roles in the feedback and feedforward motor control of pitched vocal production with a differential hemispheric dominance.

Keywords: auditory-motor network; non-invasive brain stimulation; pitch matching; singing; tDCS; tone-deafness.