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Auditory neurons in humans far more sensitive to fine sound frequencies than most mammals
Date:1/10/2008

The human ear is exquisitely tuned to discern different sound frequencies, whether such tones are high or low, near or far. But the ability of our ears pales in comparison to the remarkable knack of single neurons in the brain to distinguish between the very subtlest of sound frequencies.

Reporting in the January 10 issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the epilepsy surgery program, and colleagues at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute of Science, show that in humans, a single auditory neuron in the brain exhibits an amazing selectivity to a very narrow sound frequency range, roughly down to a tenth of an octave. In fact, the ability of these neurons to detect the slightest of differences in sound frequencies far exceeds that of the auditory nerve that carries information from the hair cells of the inner ear to the cortex as much as 30 times more sensitivity. Indeed, such frequency tuning in the human auditory cortex is substantially superior to that typically found in the auditory cortex of non-human mammals, with the exception of bats.

It is quite a paradox, the researchers note, in that even musically untrained people can detect very small sound frequency differences, much better than the resolution of the peripheral auditory nerves. This is very different from other peripheral nerves, such as those in the skin, where the human ability to detect differences between two points (say from the prick of a needle) is limited by the receptors in the skin. Not so in hearing.

The researchers, including senior author Israel Nelken and first author Yael Bitterman from the Hebrew University, determined how neurons in the human auditory cortex responded to various sounds by taking recordings from four consenting clinical patients at the UCLA Medical Center. These patients had intractable epilepsy, and were being monitored with intracranial depth electrodes to ident
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Contact: Mark Wheeler
mwheeler@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2265
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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