Structural and functional asymmetry of lateral Heschl's gyrus reflects pitch perception preference

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The relative pitch of harmonic complex sounds, such as instrumental sounds, may be perceived by decoding either the fundamental pitch (f0) or the spectral pitch (fSP) of the stimuli. We classified a large cohort of 420 subjects including symphony orchestra musicians to be either f0 or fSP listeners, depending on the dominant perceptual mode. In a subgroup of 87 subjects, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and magnetoencephalography studies demonstrated a strong neural basis for both types of pitch perception irrespective of musical aptitude. Compared with f0 listeners, fSP listeners possessed a pronounced rightward, rather than leftward, asymmetry of gray matter volume and P50m activity within the pitch-sensitive lateral Heschl's gyrus. Our data link relative hemispheric lateralization with perceptual stimulus properties, whereas the absolute size of the Heschl's gyrus depends on musical aptitude.

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Figure 1: Psychometric testing and grouping.
Figure 2: Neural basis of fundamental and spectral pitch perception.
Figure 3: Averaged landmarks of 87 auditory cortices (top view, standard stereotaxic coordinates34; line width of the dashed landmarks corresponds to averaged s.e.m.).
Figure 4: Individual HG morphology.
Figure 5: Pitch perception preference and neural asymmetries.


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We thank K. Sartor for providing the 3D-MRI in Heidelberg, the radiographic staff at MARIARC for assistance with MRI data acquisition in Liverpool and E. Hofmann (Music Academy, Basel); D. Geller, R. Schmitt and T. van der Geld (University of Music and Performing Arts, Mannheim); C. Klein (Institute of Music Pedagogy, Halle) and D. Schmidt (Conservatory of Music and Performing Arts, Stuttgart) for assistance with collecting the psychometric data.

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Correspondence to Peter Schneider.

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Schneider, P., Sluming, V., Roberts, N. et al. Structural and functional asymmetry of lateral Heschl's gyrus reflects pitch perception preference. Nat Neurosci 8, 1241–1247 (2005) doi:10.1038/nn1530

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