Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Perceptual organization of auditory streaming-task relies on neural entrainment of the stimulus-presentation rate: MEG evidence

Ivan Chakalov12, 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 2013, 14:120  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-120

Published: 12 October 2013



Humans are able to extract regularities from complex auditory scenes in order to form perceptually meaningful elements. It has been shown previously that this process depends critically on both the temporal integration of the sensory input over time and the degree of frequency separation between concurrent sound sources. Our goal was to examine the relationship between these two aspects by means of magnetoencephalography (MEG). To achieve this aim, we combined time-frequency analysis on a sensor space level with source analysis. Our paradigm consisted of asymmetric ABA-tone triplets wherein the B-tones were presented temporally closer to the first A-tones, providing different tempi within the same sequence. Participants attended to the slowest B-rhythm whilst the frequency separation between tones was manipulated (0-, 2-, 4- and 10-semitones).


The results revealed that the asymmetric ABA-triplets spontaneously elicited periodic-sustained responses corresponding to the temporal distribution of the A-B and B-A tone intervals in all conditions. Moreover, when attending to the B-tones, the neural representations of the A- and B-streams were both detectable in the scenarios which allow perceptual streaming (2-, 4- and 10-semitones). Alongside this, the steady-state responses tuned to the presentation of the B-tones enhanced significantly with increase of the frequency separation between tones. However, the strength of the B-tones related steady-state responses dominated the strength of the A-tones responses in the 10-semitones condition. Conversely, the representation of the A-tones dominated the B-tones in the cases of 2- and 4-semitones conditions, in which a greater effort was required for completing the task. Additionally, the P1 evoked fields’ component following the B-tones increased in magnitude with the increase of inter-tonal frequency difference.


The enhancement of the evoked fields in the source space, along with the B-tones related activity of the time-frequency results, likely reflect the selective enhancement of the attended B-stream. The results also suggested a dissimilar efficiency of the temporal integration of separate streams depending on the degree of frequency separation between the sounds. Overall, the present findings suggest that the neural effects of auditory streaming could be directly captured in the time-frequency spectrum at the sensor-space level.

MEG; Time-frequency spectrum; Auditory scene analysis; Task-driven entrainment