Task-modulated "what" and "where" pathways in human auditory cortex

Jyrki Ahveninen*, Iiro P. Jääskeläinen, Tommi Raij, Giorgio Bonmassar, Sasha Devore, Matti Hämäläinen, Sari Levänen, Fa Hsuan Lin, Mikko Sams, Barbara G. Shinn-Cunningham, Thomas Witzel, John W. Belliveau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

247 Scopus citations


Human neuroimaging studies suggest that localization and identification of relevant auditory objects are accomplished via parallel parietal-to-lateral- prefrontal "where" and anterior-temporal-to-inferior-frontal "what" pathways, respectively. Using combined hemodynamic (functional MRI) and electromagnetic (magnetoencephalography) measurements, we investigated whether such dual pathways exist already in the human nonprimary auditory cortex, as suggested by animal models, and whether selective attention facilitates sound localization and identification by modulating these pathways in a feature-specific fashion. We found a double dissociation in response adaptation to sound pairs with phonetic vs. spatial sound changes, demonstrating that the human nonprimary auditory cortex indeed processes speech-sound identity and location in parallel anterior "what" (in anterolateral Heschl's gyrus, anterior superior temporal gyrus, and posterior plenum polare) and posterior "where" (in plenum temporale and posterior superior temporal gyrus) pathways as early as ≈70-150 ms from stimulus onset. Our data further show that the "where" pathway is activated ≈30 ms earlier than the "what" pathway, possibly enabling the brain to use top-down spatial information in auditory object perception. Notably, selectively attending to phonetic content modulated response adaptation in the "what" pathway, whereas attending to sound location produced analogous effects in the "where" pathway. This finding suggests that selective-attention effects are feature-specific in the human nonprimary auditory cortex and that they arise from enhanced tuning of receptive fields of task-relevant neuronal populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14608-14613
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 26 2006


  • Functional MRI
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Selective attention
  • Spatiotemporal brain imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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