There is much debate about the existence and function of neural oscillatory entrainment mechanisms in the auditory system. The frequency-following response (FFR) is an index of neural periodicity encoding that can provide a vehicle to study entrainment in frequency ranges relevant to speech and music processing. Criteria for entrainment include the presence of post-stimulus oscillations and phase alignment between stimulus and endogenous activity. To test the hypothesis of entrainment, in experiment 1 we collected FFR data to a repeated syllable using magneto- (MEG) and electroencephalography in 20 healthy adults. We observed significant oscillatory activity after stimulus offset in auditory cortex and subcortical auditory nuclei, consistent with entrainment. In these structures the FFR fundamental frequency converged from a lower value over 100 ms to the stimulus frequency, consistent with phase alignment, and diverged to a lower value after offset, consistent with relaxation to a preferred frequency. In experiment 2, we tested how transitions between stimulus frequencies affected the MEG-FFR to a train of pure-tone pairs in 30 adults. We found that the FFR was affected by the frequency of the preceding tone for up to 40 ms at subcortical levels, and even longer durations at cortical levels. Our results suggest that oscillatory entrainment may be an integral part of periodic sound representation throughout the auditory neuraxis. The functional role of this mechanism is unknown, but it could serve as a fine-scale temporal predictor for frequency information, enhancing stability and reducing susceptibility to degradation that could be useful in real-life noisy environments.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience