Effects of acoustic gradient noise from functional magnetic resonance imaging on auditory processing as reflected by event-related brain potentials
The processing of sound changes and involuntary attention to them has been widely studied with event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Recently, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been applied to determine the neural mechanisms of involuntary attention and the sources of the corresponding ERP components. The gradient-coil switching noise from the MRI scanner, however, is a challenge to any experimental design using auditory stimuli. In the present study, the effects of MRI noise on ERPs associated with preattentive processing of sound changes and involuntary switching of attention to them were investigated. Auditory stimuli consisted of frequently presented “standard” sounds, infrequent, slightly higher “deviant” sounds, and infrequent natural “novel” sounds. The standard and deviant sounds were either sinusoidal tones or musical chords, in separate stimulus sequences. The mismatch negativity (MMN) ERP associated with preattentive sound change detection was elicited by the deviant and novel sounds and was not affected by the prerecorded background MRI noise (in comparison with the condition with no background noise). The succeeding positive P3a ERP responses associated with involuntary attention switching elicited by novel sounds were also not affected by the MRI noise. However, in ERPs to standard tones and chords, the P1, N1, and P2 peak latencies were significantly prolonged by the MRI noise. Moreover, the amplitude of the subsequent “exogenous” N2 to the standard sounds was significantly attenuated by the presence of MRI noise. In conclusion, the present results suggest that in fMRI the background noise does not interfere with the imaging of auditory processing related to involuntary attention.