Monkey brain’s ‘pitch center’ discovered

Johns Hopkins University scientists have discovered a discrete region of the monkey brain that processes pitch — the relative high and low points of sound. By recording the activity of individual brain cells as monkeys listened to musical notes, the scientists identified single neurons that recognize a middle-C as a middle-C even when played by two different instruments. “Pitch perception is a basic function of human and animal auditory systems, yet its source has remained elusive to researchers for decades,” said Xiaoqin Wang, associate professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience. “The discovery of a pitch-processing area in the brain solves an age-old mystery of auditory research.”

Wang said pitch’s importance to humans is found in facilitating the ability to follow a sequence of sounds recognized as “melodic” and combinations of sounds identified as harmony. As a result, pitch gives meaning to the patterns, tones and emotional content of speech. The researchers say given the similarities between monkeys and man, humans may have a similar pitch-processing region in the brain. Such a discovery might help people with hearing and speech problems.

Source: Nature

Science Daily
September 27, 2005

Original web page at Science Daily