Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Frequency-specific modulation of population-level frequency tuning in human auditory cortex

Hidehiko Okamoto1*, Henning Stracke1, Pienie Zwitserlood2, Larry E Roberts3 and Christo Pantev1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosignalanalysis, University of Muenster, Malmedyweg 15, 48149 Muenster, Germany

2 Institute for Psychology II, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany

3 Department of Psychology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-1

Published: 6 January 2009



Under natural circumstances, attention plays an important role in extracting relevant auditory signals from simultaneously present, irrelevant noises. Excitatory and inhibitory neural activity, enhanced by attentional processes, seems to sharpen frequency tuning, contributing to improved auditory performance especially in noisy environments. In the present study, we investigated auditory magnetic fields in humans that were evoked by pure tones embedded in band-eliminated noises during two different stimulus sequencing conditions (constant vs. random) under auditory focused attention by means of magnetoencephalography (MEG).


In total, we used identical auditory stimuli between conditions, but presented them in a different order, thereby manipulating the neural processing and the auditory performance of the listeners. Constant stimulus sequencing blocks were characterized by the simultaneous presentation of pure tones of identical frequency with band-eliminated noises, whereas random sequencing blocks were characterized by the simultaneous presentation of pure tones of random frequencies and band-eliminated noises. We demonstrated that auditory evoked neural responses were larger in the constant sequencing compared to the random sequencing condition, particularly when the simultaneously presented noises contained narrow stop-bands.


The present study confirmed that population-level frequency tuning in human auditory cortex can be sharpened in a frequency-specific manner. This frequency-specific sharpening may contribute to improved auditory performance during detection and processing of relevant sound inputs characterized by specific frequency distributions in noisy environments.