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Short-term memory functions of the human fetus recorded with magnetoencephalography

Huotilainen, Minna1 2 CA; Kujala, Anu1; Hotakainen, Merja1; Parkkonen, Lauri3 4; Taulu, Samu3; Simola, Juha3; Nenonen, Jukka3 5; Karjalainen, Matti6; Näätänen, Risto1 7


Studies in fetuses and in prematurely born infants show that auditory discriminative skills are present prior to birth. The magnetic fields generated by the fetal brain activity pass the maternal tissues and, despite their weakness, can be detected externally using MEG. Recent studies on the auditory evoked magnetic responses show that the fetal brain responds to sound onset. In contrast, higher-level auditory skills, such as those involving discriminative and memory functions, were not so far studied in fetuses with MEG. Here we show that fetal responses related to discriminating sounds can be recorded, implicating that the auditory change-detection system is functional. These results open new views to developmental neuroscience by enabling one to determine the sensory capabilities as well as the extent and accuracy of the short-term memory system of the fetus, and, further, to follow the development of these crucial processes.

1Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, and Helsinki Brain Research Centre

2Collegium of Advanced Studies, P.O. Box 9, 00014 University of Helsinki

3Elekta Neuromag Oy, Helsinki

4Brain Research Unit, Low Temperature Laboratory

5Laboratory of Biomedical Engineering

6Laboratory of Acoustics and Audio Signal Processing, Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo

7BioMag Laboratory, Engineering Centre, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland

CA,2Corresponding Author and Address:

Received 1 November 2004; accepted 5 November 2004

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.