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  Modulation of the primary auditory thalamus when recognizing speech with background noise

Mihai, P. G., Tschentscher, N., & von Kriegstein, K. (2021). Modulation of the primary auditory thalamus when recognizing speech with background noise. The Journal of Neuroscience, 41(33), 7136-7147. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2902-20.2021.

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Mihai, Paul Glad1, 2, Author           
Tschentscher, Nadja3, Author
von Kriegstein, Katharina1, 2, Author           
1Chair of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology, TU Dresden, Germany, ou_persistent22              
2Max Planck Research Group Neural Mechanisms of Human Communication, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634556              
3Department of Psychology, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Germany, ou_persistent22              


Free keywords: fMRI; Inferior colliculus; Medial geniculate body; Noise; Speech; Thalamus
 Abstract: Recognizing speech in background noise is a strenuous daily activity, yet most humans can master it. An explanation of how the human brain deals with such sensory uncertainty during speech recognition is to-date missing. Previous work has shown that recognition of speech without background noise involves modulation of the auditory thalamus (medial geniculate body; MGB): there are higher responses in left MGB for speech recognition tasks that require tracking of fast-varying stimulus properties in contrast to relatively constant stimulus properties (e.g., speaker identity tasks) despite the same stimulus input. Here, we tested the hypotheses that (1) this task-dependent modulation for speech recognition increases in parallel with the sensory uncertainty in the speech signal, i.e., the amount of background noise; and that (2) this increase is present in the ventral MGB, which corresponds to the primary sensory part of the auditory thalamus. In accordance with our hypothesis, we show, by using ultra-high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in male and female human participants, that the task-dependent modulation of the left ventral MGB (vMGB) for speech is particularly strong when recognizing speech in noisy listening conditions in contrast to situations where the speech signal is clear. The results imply that speech in noise recognition is supported by modifications at the level of the subcortical sensory pathway providing driving input to the auditory cortex.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Speech recognition in noisy environments is a challenging everyday task. One reason why humans can master this task is the recruitment of additional cognitive resources as reflected in recruitment of non-language cerebral cortex areas. Here, we show that also modulation in the primary sensory pathway is specifically involved in speech in noise recognition. We found that the left primary sensory thalamus (ventral medial geniculate body; vMGB) is more involved when recognizing speech signals as opposed to a control task (speaker identity recognition) when heard in background noise versus when the noise was absent. This finding implies that the brain optimizes sensory processing in subcortical sensory pathway structures in a task-specific manner to deal with speech recognition in noisy environments.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2021-05-182020-11-162021-05-202021-07-092021-08-18
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: -
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2902-20.2021
Other: ePub 2021
PMID: 34244362
PMC: PMC8372015
 Degree: -



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Project name : -
Grant ID : 647051
Funding program : -
Funding organization : European Research Council

Source 1

Title: The Journal of Neuroscience
  Other : J. Neurosci.
Source Genre: Journal
Publ. Info: Baltimore, MD : The Society
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 41 (33) Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 7136 - 7147 Identifier: ISSN: 0270-6474
CoNE: https://pure.mpg.de/cone/journals/resource/954925502187