Iterated ripple noise (IRN) is a type of pitch-evoking stimulus that is commonly used in neuroimaging studies of pitch processing. When contrasted with a spectrally matched Gaussian noise, it is known to produce a consistent response in a region of auditory cortex that includes an area antero-lateral to the primary auditory fields (lateral Heschl's gyrus). The IRN-related response has often been attributed to pitch, although recent evidence suggests that it is more likely driven by slowly varying spectro-temporal modulations not related to pitch. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study showed that both pitch-related temporal regularity and slow modulations elicited a significantly greater response than a baseline Gaussian noise in an area that has been pre-defined as pitch-responsive. The region was sensitive to both pitch salience and slow modulation salience. The responses to pitch and spectro-temporal modulations interacted in a saturating manner, suggesting that there may be an overlap in the populations of neurons coding these features. However, the interaction may have been influenced by the fact that the two pitch stimuli used (IRN and unresolved harmonic complexes) differed in terms of pitch salience. Finally, the results support previous findings suggesting that the cortical response to IRN is driven in part by slow modulations, not by pitch.
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