The neuromagnetic response to spoken sentences: Co-modulation of theta band amplitude and phase

Mary F. Howard, David Poeppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Speech elicits a phase-locked response in the auditory cortex that is dominated by theta (3-7. Hz) frequencies when observed via magnetoencephalography (MEG). This phase-locked response is potentially explained as new phase-locked activity superimposed on the ongoing theta oscillation or, alternatively, as phase-resetting of the ongoing oscillation. The conventional method used to distinguish between the two hypotheses is the comparison of post- to prestimulus amplitude for the phase-locked frequency across a set of trials. In theory, increased amplitude indicates the presence of additive activity, while unchanged amplitude points to phase-resetting. However, this interpretation may not be valid if the amplitude of ongoing background activity also changes following the stimulus. In this study, we employ a new approach that circumvents this problem. Specifically, we utilize a fine-grained time-frequency analysis of MEG channel data to examine the co-modulation of amplitude change and phase coherence in the post-stimulus theta-band response. If the phase-locked response is attributable solely to phase-resetting of the ongoing theta oscillation, then amplitude and phase coherence should be uncorrelated. In contrast, additive activity should produce a positive correlation. We find significant positive correlation not only during the onset response but also throughout the response period. In fact, transient increases in phase coherence are accompanied by transient increases in amplitude in accordance with a "signal plus background" model of the evoked response. The results support the hypothesis that the theta-band phase-locked response to attended speech observed using MEG is dominated by additive phase-locked activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2118-2127
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2012


  • Amplitude
  • Auditory
  • Evoked
  • MEG
  • Phase
  • Speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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