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Open Access Research article

Modulations of neural activity in auditory streaming caused by spectral and temporal alternation in subsequent stimuli: a magnetoencephalographic study

Ivan Chakalov1, Rossitza Draganova2, Andreas Wollbrink1, Hubert Preissl2 and Christo Pantev1*

Author Affiliations

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

2 MEG-Center, Eberhard-Karls-University Tübingen, Otfried-Müller-Straße 47, 72076, Tübingen, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:72  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-72

Published: 20 June 2012



The aim of the present study was to identify a specific neuronal correlate underlying the pre-attentive auditory stream segregation of subsequent sound patterns alternating in spectral or temporal cues. Fifteen participants with normal hearing were presented with series’ of two consecutive ABA auditory tone-triplet sequences, the initial triplets being the Adaptation sequence and the subsequent triplets being the Test sequence. In the first experiment, the frequency separation (delta-f) between A and B tones in the sequences was varied by 2, 4 and 10 semitones. In the second experiment, a constant delta-f of 6 semitones was maintained but the Inter-Stimulus Intervals (ISIs) between A and B tones were varied. Auditory evoked magnetic fields (AEFs) were recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Participants watched a muted video of their choice and ignored the auditory stimuli. In a subsequent behavioral study both MEG experiments were replicated to provide information about the participants’ perceptual state.


MEG measurements showed a significant increase in the amplitude of the B-tone related P1 component of the AEFs as delta-f increased. This effect was seen predominantly in the left hemisphere. A significant increase in the amplitude of the N1 component was only obtained for a Test sequence delta-f of 10 semitones with a prior Adaptation sequence of 2 semitones. This effect was more pronounced in the right hemisphere. The additional behavioral data indicated an increased probability of two-stream perception for delta-f = 4 and delta-f = 10 semitones with a preceding Adaptation sequence of 2 semitones. However, neither the neural activity nor the perception of the successive streaming sequences were modulated when the ISIs were alternated.


Our MEG experiment demonstrated differences in the behavior of P1 and N1 components during the automatic segregation of sounds when induced by an initial Adaptation sequence. The P1 component appeared enhanced in all Test-conditions and thus demonstrates the preceding context effect, whereas N1 was specifically modulated only by large delta-f Test sequences induced by a preceding small delta-f Adaptation sequence. These results suggest that P1 and N1 components represent at least partially-different systems that underlie the neural representation of auditory streaming.