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The functional difference between voice processing and spoken language processing is reflected by phonagnosic and aphasic disorders, respectively. Patients with phonagnosia cannot identify the speaker of a sentence, although they can extract the meaning of it, and aphasic patients don‘t grab the meaning of words and sentences presented acoustically, but recognize their speakers. A lot is known about the cerebral organization of language processing (Broca‘s and Wernicke‘s area are well known sites), but less about voice processing.

Belin et al. (2000) identified voice-selective areas bilaterally in the upper bank of the superior temporal sulcus (STS). From later studies, it was concluded that it is especially the right anterior temporal sulcus, which is engaged in voice analysis because it responded more to human voices than to non-human sounds, and when subjects focussed on the speaker’s voices and not on the linguistic content (Belin & Zatorre, 2003; von Kriegstein et al., 2003). Birkett et al. (2007) suggested that the lower bank of the left STS is crucially involved in voice identification, as it was preferentially activated by familiar voices. In our studies we asked whether it is the lower or the upper bank of the STS which is preferentially activated by human voices in contrast to sounds of animals or musical instruments, and found that in our 12 subjects bilaterally the superior temporal gyrus is preferentially activated by human voices. Strict voice selectivity (see BOLD time course in lower row of figure 1) was found along the STS with no preference for the upper or the lower bank.

Figure 1.Voice-selective activation (red curve) along STS in contrast to animal sounds (green) and musical instruments (yellow). Voice-selective areas of the left and right hemisphere are marked on an averaged brain anatomy of 50 subjects in yellow and pink, respectively.

Belin, P., et al. (2000). Voice-selective areas in human auditory cortex. Nature 403, 309-312.
Belin, P. & Zatorre, R.J. (2003). Adaptation to speaker’s voice in right anterior temporal-lobe. NeuroReport 14, 2105-2109.
von Kriegstein, K., et al. (2003). Modulation of neural responses to speech by directing attention to voices or verbal content. Cogn Brain Res 17, 48-55.
Birkett, P.B., et al. (2007). Voice familiarity engages auditory cortex. NeuroReport 18, 1375-1378.

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