The auditory steady-state response (ASSR) is an oscillatory brain response generated by periodic auditory stimuli and originates mainly from the temporal auditory cortices. Recent data show that while the auditory cortices are indeed strongly activated by the stimulus when it is present (ON ASSR), the anatomical distribution of ASSR sources involves also parietal and frontal cortices, indicating that the ASSR is a more complex phenomenon than previously believed. Furthermore, while the ASSR typically continues to oscillate even after the stimulus has stopped (OFF ASSR), very little is known about the characteristics of the OFF ASSR and how it compares to the ON ASSR. Here, we assessed whether the OFF and ON ASSR powers are modulated by the stimulus properties (i.e. volume and pitch), selective attention, as well as individual musical sophistication. We also investigated the cortical source distribution of the OFF ASSR using a melody tracking task, in which attention was directed between uniquely amplitude-modulated melody streams that differed in pitch. The ON and OFF ASSRs were recorded with magnetoencephalography (MEG) on a group of participants varying from low to high degree of musical sophistication. Our results show that the OFF ASSR is distinctly different from the ON ASSR in nearly every aspect. While the ON ASSR was modulated by the stimulus properties and selective attention, the OFF ASSR was not influenced by any of these factors. Furthermore, while the ON ASSR was generated primarily from temporal sources, the OFF ASSR originated mainly from the frontal cortex. These findings challenge the notion that the OFF ASSR is merely a continuation of the ON ASSR. Rather, they suggest that the OFF ASSR is an internally-driven signal that develops from an initial sensory processing state (ON ASSR), with both types of ASSRs clearly differing in cortical representation and character. Furthermore, our results show that the ON ASSR power was enhanced by selective attention at cortical sources within each of the bilateral frontal, temporal, parietal and insular lobes. Finally, the ON ASSR proved sensitive to musicality, demonstrating positive correlations between musical sophistication and ASSR power, as well as with the degree of attentional ASSR modulation at the left and right parietal cortices. Taken together, these results show new aspects of the ASSR response, and demonstrate its usefulness as an effective tool for analysing how selective attention interacts with individual abilities in music perception.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience