Increased activation of the human cerebellum during pitch discrimination: A positron emission tomography (PET) study

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Recent years have seen a growing debate concerning the function of the cerebellum. Here we used a pitch discrimination task and PET to test for cerebellar involvement in the active control of sensory data acquisition. Specifically, we predicted greater cerebellar activity during active pitch discrimination compared to passive listening, with the greatest activity when pitch discrimination was most difficult. Ten healthy subjects were trained to discriminate deviant tones presented with a slightly higher pitch than a standard tone, using a Go/No Go paradigm. To ensure that discrimination performance was matched across subjects, individual psychometric curves were assessed beforehand using a two-step psychoacoustic procedure. Subjects were scanned while resting in the absence of any sounds, while passively listening to standard tones, and while detecting deviant tones slightly higher in pitch among these standard tones at four different performance levels. Consistent with our predictions, 1) passive listening alone elicited cerebellar activity (lobule IX), 2) cerebellar activity increased during pitch discrimination as compared to passive listening (crus I and II, lobules VI, VIIB, and VIIIB), and 3) this increase was correlated with the difficulty of the discrimination task (lobules V, VI, and IX). These results complement recent findings showing pitch discrimination deficits in cerebellar patients (Parsons et al., 2009) and further support a role for the cerebellum in sensory data acquisition. The data are discussed in the light of anatomical and physiological evidence functionally connecting auditory system and cerebellum.

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