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

ify the focal point of their seizures for potential surgical treatment. Using clinical criteria, electrodes were implanted bilaterally at various brain sites that were suspected to be involved in the seizures; these included the auditory cortex. The recording of brain activity was carried out while the patients listened to artificial random chords at different tones per octave, and to segments from the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Thus, the sounds the patients heard were both artificialthe random chordsand more natural, the voices and noise from the movie soundtrack.

The results surprised the researchers. A single auditory neuron from humans showed an amazing sensitivity to distinguish between very subtle frequency differences, down to a tenth of an octave. This compared to a sensitivity of about one octave in the cat, about a third of an octave on average in rats, and half to one octave in the macaque.

This is remarkable selectivity, said Fried, who is also the co-director of UCLAs Seizure Disorder Center. It is indeed a mystery why such resolution in humans came to be. Why did we develop this? Such selectivity is not needed for speech comprehension, but it may have a role in musical skill. The three percent frequency differences that can be detected by single neurons may explain the fact that even musically untrained people can detect such frequency differences.

There is also evidence that frequency discrimination in humans correlates with various cognitive skills, including working memory and the capability to learn, but more research is needed to clarify this puzzle.

This study, said Fried, is the latest example of the power of neurobiological research that uses data drawn directly from inside a living human brain at the single-neuron level. Previous studies from Frieds lab have identified single cells in the human hippocampus specific to places during human navigation, and single cells that can translate varied visua
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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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