A challenge to learning words of a foreign language is encoding nonnative phonemes, a process typically attributed to cortical circuitry. Using multimodal imaging methods [functional magnetic resonance imaging- adaptation (fMRI-A) and auditory brain stem responses (ABR)], we examined the extent to which pretraining pitch encoding in the inferior colliculus (IC), a primary midbrain structure, related to individual variability in learning to successfully use nonnative pitch patterns to distinguish words in American English-speaking adults. fMRI-A indexed the efficiency of pitch representation localized to the IC, whereas ABR quantified midbrain pitch-related activity with millisecond precision. In line with neural "sharpening" models, we found that efficient IC pitch pattern representation (indexed by fMRI) related to superior neural representation of pitch patterns (indexed by ABR), and consequently more successful word learning following sound-to-meaning training. Our results establish a critical role for the IC in speech-sound representation, consistent with the established role for the IC in the representation of communication signals in other animal models.
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging-adaptation
- Inferior colliculus
- Repetition suppression
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