New work from Norman-Haignere et al. describes a population of cells in our auditory cortex, located between the music and speech-selective areas, that is responsive to singing, but not to instrumental music or speech. (Their experiments were done on patients who were in hospital with electrodes implanted into their heads for epilepsy treatment, allowing more precise location data than can be obtained from fMRI scans.) Their result is consonant with a popular theory that singing has an important role in the evolution of music and language. Their abstract:
• Neural population responsive to singing, but not instrumental music or speech
• New statistical method infers neural populations from human intracranial responses
• fMRI used to map the spatial distribution of intracranial responses
• Intracranial responses replicate distinct music- and speech-selective populationsSummary
How is music represented in the brain? While neuroimaging has revealed some spatial segregation between responses to music versus other sounds, little is known about the neural code for music itself. To address this question, we developed a method to infer canonical response components of human auditory cortex using intracranial responses to natural sounds, and further used the superior coverage of fMRI to map their spatial distribution. The inferred components replicated many prior findings, including distinct neural selectivity for speech and music, but also revealed a novel component that responded nearly exclusively to music with singing. Song selectivity was not explainable by standard acoustic features, was located near speech- and music-selective responses, and was also evident in individual electrodes. These results suggest that representations of music are fractionated into subpopulations selective for different types of music, one of which is specialized for the analysis of song.