Parallel Encoding of Speech in Human Frontal and Temporal Lobes

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Mar 20:2024.03.19.585648. doi: 10.1101/2024.03.19.585648.


Models of speech perception are centered around a hierarchy in which auditory representations in the thalamus propagate to primary auditory cortex, then to the lateral temporal cortex, and finally through dorsal and ventral pathways to sites in the frontal lobe. However, evidence for short latency speech responses and low-level spectrotemporal representations in frontal cortex raises the question of whether speech-evoked activity in frontal cortex strictly reflects downstream processing from lateral temporal cortex or whether there are direct parallel pathways from the thalamus or primary auditory cortex to the frontal lobe that supplement the traditional hierarchical architecture. Here, we used high-density direct cortical recordings, high-resolution diffusion tractography, and hemodynamic functional connectivity to evaluate for evidence of direct parallel inputs to frontal cortex from low-level areas. We found that neural populations in the frontal lobe show speech-evoked responses that are synchronous or occur earlier than responses in the lateral temporal cortex. These short latency frontal lobe neural populations encode spectrotemporal speech content indistinguishable from spectrotemporal encoding patterns observed in the lateral temporal lobe, suggesting parallel auditory speech representations reaching temporal and frontal cortex simultaneously. This is further supported by white matter tractography and functional connectivity patterns that connect the auditory nucleus of the thalamus (medial geniculate body) and the primary auditory cortex to the frontal lobe. Together, these results support the existence of a robust pathway of parallel inputs from low-level auditory areas to frontal lobe targets and illustrate long-range parallel architecture that works alongside the classical hierarchical speech network model.

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  • Preprint