To identify the brain regions preferentially involved in environmental sound recognition (comprising portions of a putative auditory 'what' pathway), we collected functional imaging data while listeners attended to a wide range of sounds, including those produced by tools, animals, liquids and dropped objects. These recognizable sounds, in contrast to unrecognizable, temporally reversed control sounds, evoked activity in a distributed network of brain regions previously associated with semantic processing, located predominantly in the left hemisphere, but also included strong bilateral activity in posterior portions of the middle temporal gyri (pMTG). Comparisons with earlier studies suggest that these bilateral pMTG foci partially overlap cortex implicated in high-level visual processing of complex biological motion and recognition of tools and other artifacts. We propose that the pMTG foci process multimodal (or supramodal) information about objects and object-associated motion, and that this may represent 'action' knowledge that can be recruited for purposes of recognition of familiar environmental sound-sources. These data also provide a functional and anatomical explanation for the symptoms of pure auditory agnosia for environmental sounds reported in human lesion studies.
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