Functional Organization of the Ventral Auditory Pathway

Yale E. Cohen, Sharath Bennur, Kate L. Christison-Lagay, Adam M. Gifford, Joji Tsunada

The fundamental problem in audition is determining the mechanisms required by the brain to transform an unlabelled mixture of auditory stimuli into coherent perceptual representations. This process is called auditory-scene analysis. The perceptual representations that result from auditory-scene analysis are formed through a complex interaction of perceptual grouping, attention, categorization and decision-making. Despite a great deal of scientific energy devoted to understanding these aspects of hearing, we still do not understand (1) how sound perception arises from neural activity and (2) the causal relationship between neural activity and sound perception. Here, we review the role of the “ventral” auditory pathway in sound perception. We hypothesize that, in the early parts of the auditory cortex, neural activity reflects the auditory properties of a stimulus. However, in latter parts of the auditory cortex, neurons encode the sensory evidence that forms an auditory decision and are causally involved in the decision process. Finally, in the prefrontal cortex, which receives input from the auditory cortex, neural activity reflects the actual perceptual decision. Together, these studies indicate that the ventral pathway contains hierarchical circuits that are specialized for auditory perception and scene analysis.