Front Neurosci. 2012 ;6:190 doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00190. 2013 Jan 22.

Auditory selective attention reveals preparatory activity in different cortical regions for selection based on source location and source pitch

Lee AK, Rajaram S, Xia J, Bharadwaj H, Larson E, Hamalainen MS, Shinn-Cunningham BG.


In order to extract information in a rich environment, we focus on different features that allow us to direct attention to whatever source is of interest. The cortical network deployed during spatial attention, especially in vision, is well characterized. For example, visuospatial attention engages a frontoparietal network including the frontal eye fields (FEFs), which modulate activity in visual sensory areas to enhance the representation of an attended visual object. However, relatively little is known about the neural circuitry controlling attention directed to non-spatial features, or to auditory objects or features (either spatial or non-spatial). Here, using combined magnetoencephalography (MEG) and anatomical information obtained from MRI, we contrasted cortical activity when observers attended to different auditory features given the same acoustic mixture of two simultaneous spoken digits. Leveraging the fine temporal resolution of MEG, we establish that activity in left FEF is enhanced both prior to and throughout the auditory stimulus when listeners direct auditory attention to target location compared to when they focus on target pitch. In contrast, activity in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS), a region previously associated with auditory pitch categorization, is greater when listeners direct attention to target pitch rather than target location. This differential enhancement is only significant after observers are instructed which cue to attend, but before the acoustic stimuli begin. We therefore argue that left FEF participates more strongly in directing auditory spatial attention, while the left STS aids auditory object selection based on the non-spatial acoustic feature of pitch.

PMID: 23335874