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1.  Contributions of Intrinsic Neural and Stimulus Variance to Binaural Sensitivity 
The discrimination of a change in a stimulus is determined both by the magnitude of that change and by the variability in the neural response to the stimulus. When the stimulus is itself noisy, then the relative contributions of the neural (intrinsic) and stimulus induced variability becomes a critical question. We measured the contribution of intrinsic neural noise and interstimulus variability to the discrimination of interaural time differences (ITDs) and interaural correlation (IAC). We measured discharge rate versus characteristic frequency (CF) tone ITD functions, and CF-centered narrowband noise ITD and IAC functions in interleaved blocks in the same units in the inferior colliculus of urethane-anesthetized guinea pigs. Ten “frozen” tokens of noise were synthesized and the responses to each token were separately analyzed to allow the relative contributions of intrinsic and stimulus variability to be assessed. ITD and IAC discrimination thresholds were determined for a simulated two-interval forced-choice experiment, based on the firing rate distributions, using receiver operating characteristic analysis. On average, between stimulus variability contributed 19% (range, 1.5–30%) of the variance in noise ITD discrimination and 27% (range, 3–50%) in IAC discrimination. Noise ITD thresholds were slightly higher than tone ITD thresholds. Taking the mean of the thresholds for individual noise tokens gave a similar result to pooling across all noise tokens. This implies that although the stimulus induced variability is measurable, it is insignificant in relation to the intrinsic noise in ITD and IAC discrimination.
doi:10.1007/s10162-006-0054-7
PMCID: PMC2504630  PMID: 17053864
binaural; discrimination; guinea pig; inferior colliculus; interaural correlation; jnd; interaural time difference (ITD); intrinsic variability; stimulus variability
2.  Sensitivity to Interaural Time Differences in the Inferior Colliculus with Bilateral Cochlear Implants 
Bilateral cochlear implantation attempts to increase performance over a monaural prosthesis by harnessing the binaural processing of the auditory system. Although many bilaterally implanted human subjects discriminate interaural time differences (ITDs), a major cue for sound localization and signal detection in noise, their performance is typically poorer than that of normal-hearing listeners. We developed an animal model of bilateral cochlear implantation to study neural ITD sensitivity for trains of electric current pulses delivered via bilaterally implanted intracochlear electrodes. We found that a majority of single units in the inferior colliculus of acutely deafened, anesthetized cats are sensitive to ITD and that electric ITD tuning is as sharp as found for acoustic stimulation with broadband noise in normal-hearing animals. However, the sharpness and shape of ITD tuning often depended strongly on stimulus intensity; some neurons had dynamic ranges of ITD sensitivity as low as 1 dB. We also found that neural ITD sensitivity was best at pulse rates below 100 Hz and decreased with increasing pulse rate. This rate limitation parallels behavioral ITD discrimination in bilaterally implanted individuals. The sharp neural ITD sensitivity found with electric stimulation at the appropriate intensity is encouraging for the prospect of restoring the functional benefits of binaural hearing in bilaterally implanted human subjects and suggests that neural plasticity resulting from previous deafness and deprivation of binaural experience may play a role in the poor ITD discrimination with current bilateral implants.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0052-07.2007
PMCID: PMC2041852  PMID: 17581961
binaural hearing; electric stimulation; neural prosthesis; cochlear implant; inferior colliculus; ITD
3.  Models of Brainstem Responses to Bilateral Electrical Stimulation 
A simple, biophysically specified cell model is used to predict responses of binaurally sensitive neurons to patterns of input spikes that represent stimulation by acoustic and electric waveforms. Specifically, the effects of changes in parameters of input spike trains on model responses to interaural time difference (ITD) were studied for low-frequency periodic stimuli, with or without amplitude modulation. Simulations were limited to purely excitatory, bilaterally driven cell models with basic ionic currents and multiple input fibers. Parameters explored include average firing rate, synchrony index, modulation frequency, and latency dispersion of the input trains as well as the excitatory conductance and time constant of individual synapses in the cell model. Results are compared to physiological recordings from the inferior colliculus (IC) and discussed in terms of ITD-discrimination abilities of listeners with cochlear implants. Several empirically observed aspects of ITD sensitivity were simulated without evoking complex neural processing. Specifically, our results show saturation effects in rate–ITD curves, the absence of sustained responses to high-rate unmodulated pulse trains, the renewal of sensitivity to ITD in high-rate trains when inputs are amplitude-modulated, and interactions between envelope and fine-structure delays for some modulation frequencies.
doi:10.1007/s10162-008-0141-z
PMCID: PMC2644392  PMID: 18941838
binaural hearing; auditory brainstem model; electric hearing; interaural time delay; cochlear implant
4.  Asymmetric Excitatory Synaptic Dynamics Underlie Interaural Time Difference Processing in the Auditory System 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(6):e1000406.
In order to localize sounds in the environment, the auditory system detects and encodes differences in signals between each ear. The exquisite sensitivity of auditory brain stem neurons to the differences in rise time of the excitation signals from the two ears allows for neuronal encoding of microsecond interaural time differences.
Low-frequency sound localization depends on the neural computation of interaural time differences (ITD) and relies on neurons in the auditory brain stem that integrate synaptic inputs delivered by the ipsi- and contralateral auditory pathways that start at the two ears. The first auditory neurons that respond selectively to ITD are found in the medial superior olivary nucleus (MSO). We identified a new mechanism for ITD coding using a brain slice preparation that preserves the binaural inputs to the MSO. There was an internal latency difference for the two excitatory pathways that would, if left uncompensated, position the ITD response function too far outside the physiological range to be useful for estimating ITD. We demonstrate, and support using a biophysically based computational model, that a bilateral asymmetry in excitatory post-synaptic potential (EPSP) slopes provides a robust compensatory delay mechanism due to differential activation of low threshold potassium conductance on these inputs and permits MSO neurons to encode physiological ITDs. We suggest, more generally, that the dependence of spike probability on rate of depolarization, as in these auditory neurons, provides a mechanism for temporal order discrimination between EPSPs.
Author Summary
Animals can locate the source of a sound by detecting microsecond differences in the arrival time of sound at the two ears. Neurons encoding these interaural time differences (ITDs) receive an excitatory synaptic input from each ear. They can perform a microsecond computation with excitatory synapses that have millisecond time scale because they are extremely sensitive to the input's “rise time,” the time taken to reach the peak of the synaptic input. Current theories assume that the biophysical properties of the two inputs are identical. We challenge this assumption by showing that the rise times of excitatory synaptic potentials driven by the ipsilateral ear are faster than those driven by the contralateral ear. Further, we present a computational model demonstrating that this disparity in rise times, together with the neurons' sensitivity to excitation's rise time, can endow ITD-encoding with microsecond resolution in the biologically relevant range. Our analysis also resolves a timing mismatch. The difference between contralateral and ipsilateral latencies is substantially larger than the relevant ITD range. We show how the rise time disparity compensates for this mismatch. Generalizing, we suggest that phasic-firing neurons—those that respond to rapidly, but not to slowly, changing stimuli—are selective to the temporal ordering of brief inputs. In a coincidence-detection computation the neuron will respond more robustly when a faster input leads a slower one, even if the inputs are brief and have similar amplitudes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000406
PMCID: PMC2893945  PMID: 20613857
5.  Sensitivity of Inferior Colliculus Neurons to Interaural Time Differences in the Envelope Versus the Fine Structure With Bilateral Cochlear Implants 
Journal of neurophysiology  2008;99(5):2390-2407.
Bilateral cochlear implantation seeks to improve hearing by taking advantage of the binaural processing of the central auditory system. Cochlear implants typically encode sound in each spectral channel by amplitude modulating (AM) a fixed-rate pulse train, thus interaural time differences (ITD) are only delivered in the envelope. We investigated the ITD sensitivity of inferior colliculus (IC) neurons with sinusoidally AM pulse trains. ITD was introduced independently to the AM and/or carrier pulses to measure the relative efficacy of envelope and fine structure for delivering ITD information. We found that many IC cells are sensitive to ITD in both the envelope (ITDenv) and fine structure (ITDfs) for appropriate modulation frequencies and carrier rates. ITDenv sensitivity was generally similar to that seen in normal-hearing animals with AM tones. ITDenv tuning generally improved with increasing modulation frequency up to the maximum modulation frequency that elicited a sustained response in a neuron (tested ≤Hz). ITDfs sensitivity was present in about half the neurons for 1,000 pulse/s (pps) carriers and was nonexistent at 5,000 pps. The neurons that were sensitive to ITDfs at 1,000 pps were those that showed the best ITD sensitivity to low-rate pulse trains. Overall, the best ITD sensitivity was found for ITD contained in the fine structure of a moderate rate AM pulse train (1,000 pps). These results suggest that the interaural timing of current pulses should be accurately controlled in a bilateral cochlear implant processing strategy that provides salient ITD cues.
doi:10.1152/jn.00751.2007
PMCID: PMC2570106  PMID: 18287556
6.  Interaural Time-Delay Sensitivity in Bilateral Cochlear Implant Users: Effects of Pulse Rate, Modulation Rate, and Place of Stimulation 
Electrical interaural time delay (ITD) discrimination was measured using 300-ms bursts applied to binaural pitch matched electrodes at basal, mid, and apical locations in each ear. Six bilateral implant users, who had previously shown good ITD sensitivity at a pulse rate of 100 pulses per second (pps), were assessed. Thresholds were measured as a function of pulse rate between 100 and 1,000 Hz, as well as modulation rate over that same range for high-rate pulse trains at 6,000 pps. Results were similar for all three places of stimulation and showed decreasing ITD sensitivity as either pulse rate or modulation rate increased, although the extent of that effect varied across subjects. The results support a model comprising a common ITD mechanism for high- and low-frequency places of stimulation, which, for electrical stimulation, is rate-limited in the same way across electrodes because peripheral temporal responses are largely place invariant. Overall, ITD sensitivity was somewhat better with unmodulated pulse trains than with high-rate pulse trains modulated at matched rates, although comparisons at individual rates showed that difference to be significant only at 300 Hz. Electrodes presenting with the lowest thresholds at 600 Hz were further assessed using bursts with a ramped onset of 10 ms. The slower rise time resulted in decreased performance in four of the listeners, but not in the two best performers, indicating that those two could use ongoing cues at 600 Hz. Performance at each place was also measured using single-pulse stimuli. Comparison of those data with the unmodulated 300-ms burst thresholds showed that on average, the addition of ongoing cues beyond the onset enhanced overall ITD sensitivity at 100 and 300 Hz, but not at 600 Hz. At 1,000 Hz, the added ongoing cues actually decreased performance. That result is attributed to the introduction of ambiguous cues within the physiologically relevant range and increased dichotic firing.
doi:10.1007/s10162-009-0175-x
PMCID: PMC2774408  PMID: 19513792
binaural hearing; auditory prosthesis; auditory models
7.  Perceptual Sensitivity to High-Frequency Interaural Time Differences Created by Rustling Sounds 
Interaural time differences (ITDs) can be used to localize sounds in the horizontal plane. ITDs can be extracted from either the fine structure of low-frequency sounds or from the envelopes of high-frequency sounds. Studies of the latter have included stimuli with periodic envelopes like amplitude-modulated tones or transposed stimuli, and high-pass filtered Gaussian noises. Here, four experiments are presented investigating the perceptual relevance of ITD cues in synthetic and recorded “rustling” sounds. Both share the broad long-term power spectrum with Gaussian noise but provide more pronounced envelope fluctuations than Gaussian noise, quantified by an increased waveform fourth moment, W. The current data show that the JNDs in ITD for band-pass rustling sounds tended to improve with increasing W and with increasing bandwidth when the sounds were band limited. In contrast, no influence of W on JND was observed for broadband sounds, apparently because of listeners' sensitivity to ITD in low-frequency fine structure, present in the broadband sounds. Second, it is shown that for high-frequency rustling sounds ITD JNDs can be as low as 30 μs. The third result was that the amount of dominance for ITD extraction of low frequencies decreases systematically with increasing amount of envelope fluctuations. Finally, it is shown that despite the exceptionally good envelope ITD sensitivity evident with high-frequency rustling sounds, minimum audible angles of both synthetic and recorded high-frequency rustling sounds in virtual acoustic space are still best when the angular information is mediated by interaural level differences.
doi:10.1007/s10162-011-0303-2
PMCID: PMC3254714  PMID: 22124890
binaural hearing; envelope; roughness; duplex theory; dominance region
8.  Modelling of Human Low Frequency Sound Localization Acuity Demonstrates Dominance of Spatial Variation of Interaural Time Difference and Suggests Uniform Just-Noticeable Differences in Interaural Time Difference 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89033.
Sound source localization is critical to animal survival and for identification of auditory objects. We investigated the acuity with which humans localize low frequency, pure tone sounds using timing differences between the ears. These small differences in time, known as interaural time differences or ITDs, are identified in a manner that allows localization acuity of around 1° at the midline. Acuity, a relative measure of localization ability, displays a non-linear variation as sound sources are positioned more laterally. All species studied localize sounds best at the midline and progressively worse as the sound is located out towards the side. To understand why sound localization displays this variation with azimuthal angle, we took a first-principles, systemic, analytical approach to model localization acuity. We calculated how ITDs vary with sound frequency, head size and sound source location for humans. This allowed us to model ITD variation for previously published experimental acuity data and determine the distribution of just-noticeable differences in ITD. Our results suggest that the best-fit model is one whereby just-noticeable differences in ITDs are identified with uniform or close to uniform sensitivity across the physiological range. We discuss how our results have several implications for neural ITD processing in different species as well as development of the auditory system.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089033
PMCID: PMC3928360  PMID: 24558468
9.  Congenital and Prolonged Adult-Onset Deafness Cause Distinct Degradations in Neural ITD Coding with Bilateral Cochlear Implants 
Bilateral cochlear implant (CI) users perform poorly on tasks involving interaural time differences (ITD), which are critical for sound localization and speech reception in noise by normal-hearing listeners. ITD perception with bilateral CI is influenced by age at onset of deafness and duration of deafness. We previously showed that ITD coding in the auditory midbrain is degraded in congenitally deaf white cats (DWC) compared to acutely deafened cats (ADC) with normal auditory development (Hancock et al., J. Neurosci, 30:14068). To determine the relative importance of early onset of deafness and prolonged duration of deafness for abnormal ITD coding in DWC, we recorded from single units in the inferior colliculus of cats deafened as adults 6 months prior to experimentation (long-term deafened cats, LTDC) and compared neural ITD coding between the three deafness models. The incidence of ITD-sensitive neurons was similar in both groups with normal auditory development (LTDC and ADC), but significantly diminished in DWC. In contrast, both groups that experienced prolonged deafness (LTDC and DWC) had broad distributions of best ITDs around the midline, unlike the more focused distributions biased toward contralateral-leading ITDs present in both ADC and normal-hearing animals. The lack of contralateral bias in LTDC and DWC results in reduced sensitivity to changes in ITD within the natural range. The finding that early onset of deafness more severely degrades neural ITD coding than prolonged duration of deafness argues for the importance of fitting deaf children with sound processors that provide reliable ITD cues at an early age.
doi:10.1007/s10162-013-0380-5
PMCID: PMC3642270  PMID: 23462803
binaural hearing; congenital deafness; inferior colliculus; cochlear implants; ITD
10.  Resolution of interaural time differences in the avian sound localization circuit—a modeling study 
Interaural time differences (ITDs) are a main cue for sound localization and sound segregation. A dominant model to study ITD detection is the sound localization circuitry in the avian auditory brainstem. Neurons in nucleus laminaris (NL) receive auditory information from both ears via the avian cochlear nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and compare the relative timing of these inputs. Timing of these inputs is crucial, as ITDs in the microsecond range must be discriminated and encoded. We modeled ITD sensitivity of single NL neurons based on previously published data and determined the minimum resolvable ITD for neurons in NL. The minimum resolvable ITD is too large to allow for discrimination by single NL neurons of naturally occurring ITDs for very low frequencies. For high frequency NL neurons (>1 kHz) our calculated ITD resolutions fall well within the natural range of ITDs and approach values of below 10 μs. We show that different parts of the ITD tuning function offer different resolution in ITD coding, suggesting that information derived from both parts may be used for downstream processing. A place code may be used for sound location at frequencies above 500 Hz, but our data suggest the slope of the ITD tuning curve ought to be used for ITD discrimination by single NL neurons at the lowest frequencies. Our results provide an important measure of the necessary temporal window of binaural inputs for future studies on the mechanisms and development of neuronal computation of temporally precise information in this important system. In particular, our data establish the temporal precision needed for conduction time regulation along NM axons.
doi:10.3389/fncom.2014.00099
PMCID: PMC4143899  PMID: 25206329
sound localization; interaural time differences; avian brainstem; nucleus laminaris; ITD resolution
11.  Neural coding of ITD with bilateral cochlear implants: Effects of congenital deafness 
Human bilateral cochlear implant users do poorly on tasks involving interaural time differences (ITD), a cue which provides important benefits to the normal hearing, especially in challenging acoustic environments. Yet the precision of neural ITD coding in acutely-deafened, bilaterally-implanted cats is essentially normal (Smith and Delgutte, J. Neurosci. 27:6740–6750). One explanation for this discrepancy is that the extended periods of binaural deprivation typically experienced by cochlear implant users degrades neural ITD sensitivity, either by impeding normal maturation of the neural circuitry or by altering it later in life. To test this hypothesis, we recorded from single units in inferior colliculus (IC) of two groups of bilaterally-implanted, anesthetized cats that contrast maximally in binaural experience: acutely-deafened cats, which had normal binaural hearing until experimentation, and congenitally deaf white cats, which received no auditory inputs until the experiment. Rate responses of only half as many neurons showed significant ITD sensitivity to low-rate pulse trains in congenitally deaf cats compared to acutely deafened cats. For neurons that were ITD sensitive, ITD tuning was broader and best ITDs were more variable in congenitally deaf cats, leading to poorer ITD coding within the naturally-occurring range. A signal detection model constrained by the observed physiology supports the idea that the degraded neural ITD coding resulting from deprivation of binaural experience contributes to poor ITD discrimination by human implantees.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3213-10.2010
PMCID: PMC3025489  PMID: 20962228
binaural hearing; electric stimulation; congenital deafness; cochlear implant; inferior colliculus; ITD
12.  Interaural Correlation Fails to Account for Detection in a Classic Binaural Task: Dynamic ITDs Dominate N0Sπ Detection 
Binaural signal detection in an NoSπ task relies on interaural disparities introduced by adding an antiphasic signal to diotic noise. What metric of interaural disparity best predicts performance? Some models use interaural correlation; others differentiate between dynamic interaural time differences (ITDs) and interaural level differences (ILDs) of the effective stimulus. To examine the relative contributions of ITDs and ILDs in binaural detection, we developed a novel signal processing technique that selectively degrades different aspects (potential cues) of binaural stimuli (e.g., only ITDs are scrambled). Degrading a particular cue will affect performance only if that cue is relevant to the binaural processing underlying detection. This selective scrambling technique was applied to the stimuli of a classic N0Sπ task in which the listener had to detect an antiphasic 500-Hz signal in the presence of a diotic wideband noise masker. Data obtained from five listeners showed that (1) selective scrambling of ILDs had little effect on binaural detection, (2) selective scrambling of ITDs significantly degraded detection, and (3) combined scrambling of ILDs and ITDs had the same effect as exclusive scrambling of ITDs. Regarding the question which stimulus properties determine detection, we conclude that for this binaural task (1) dynamic ITDs dominate detection performance, (2) ILDs are largely irrelevant, and (3) interaural correlation of the stimulus is a poor predictor of detection. Two simple stimulus-based models that each reproduce all binaural aspects of the data quite well are described: (1) a single-parameter detection model using ITD variance as detection criterion and (2) a compressive transformation followed by a crosscorrelation analysis. The success of both of these contrasting models shows that our data alone cannot reveal the mechanisms underlying the dominance of ITD cues. The physiological implications of our findings are discussed.
doi:10.1007/s10162-009-0185-8
PMCID: PMC2820206  PMID: 19760461
binaural detection; masking; ITD; ILD; MLD; binaural modulation
13.  Interaural Correlation Fails to Account for Detection in a Classic Binaural Task: Dynamic ITDs Dominate N0Sπ Detection 
Binaural signal detection in an NoSπ task relies on interaural disparities introduced by adding an antiphasic signal to diotic noise. What metric of interaural disparity best predicts performance? Some models use interaural correlation; others differentiate between dynamic interaural time differences (ITDs) and interaural level differences (ILDs) of the effective stimulus. To examine the relative contributions of ITDs and ILDs in binaural detection, we developed a novel signal processing technique that selectively degrades different aspects (potential cues) of binaural stimuli (e.g., only ITDs are scrambled). Degrading a particular cue will affect performance only if that cue is relevant to the binaural processing underlying detection. This selective scrambling technique was applied to the stimuli of a classic N0Sπ task in which the listener had to detect an antiphasic 500-Hz signal in the presence of a diotic wideband noise masker. Data obtained from five listeners showed that (1) selective scrambling of ILDs had little effect on binaural detection, (2) selective scrambling of ITDs significantly degraded detection, and (3) combined scrambling of ILDs and ITDs had the same effect as exclusive scrambling of ITDs. Regarding the question which stimulus properties determine detection, we conclude that for this binaural task (1) dynamic ITDs dominate detection performance, (2) ILDs are largely irrelevant, and (3) interaural correlation of the stimulus is a poor predictor of detection. Two simple stimulus-based models that each reproduce all binaural aspects of the data quite well are described: (1) a single-parameter detection model using ITD variance as detection criterion and (2) a compressive transformation followed by a crosscorrelation analysis. The success of both of these contrasting models shows that our data alone cannot reveal the mechanisms underlying the dominance of ITD cues. The physiological implications of our findings are discussed.
doi:10.1007/s10162-009-0185-8
PMCID: PMC2820206  PMID: 19760461
binaural detection; masking; ITD; ILD; MLD; binaural modulation
14.  Neural and Behavioral Sensitivity to Interaural Time Differences Using Amplitude Modulated Tones with Mismatched Carrier Frequencies 
Bilateral cochlear implantation is intended to provide the advantages of binaural hearing, including sound localization and better speech recognition in noise. In most modern implants, temporal information is carried by the envelope of pulsatile stimulation, and thresholds to interaural time differences (ITDs) are generally high compared to those obtained in normal hearing observers. One factor thought to influence ITD sensitivity is the overlap of neural populations stimulated on each side. The present study investigated the effects of acoustically stimulating bilaterally mismatched neural populations in two related paradigms: rabbit neural recordings and human psychophysical testing. The neural coding of interaural envelope timing information was measured in recordings from neurons in the inferior colliculus of the unanesthetized rabbit. Binaural beat stimuli with a 1-Hz difference in modulation frequency were presented at the best modulation frequency and intensity as the carrier frequencies at each ear were varied. Some neurons encoded envelope ITDs with carrier frequency mismatches as great as several octaves. The synchronization strength was typically nonmonotonically related to intensity. Psychophysical data showed that human listeners could also make use of binaural envelope cues for carrier mismatches of up to 2–3 octaves. Thus, the physiological and psychophysical data were broadly consistent, and suggest that bilateral cochlear implants should provide information sufficient to detect envelope ITDs even in the face of bilateral mismatch in the neural populations responding to stimulation. However, the strongly nonmonotonic synchronization to envelope ITDs suggests that the limited dynamic range with electrical stimulation may be an important consideration for ITD encoding.
doi:10.1007/s10162-007-0088-5
PMCID: PMC2538436  PMID: 17657543
sound localization; binaural; inferior colliculus; psychophysics
15.  Behavioral Sensitivity to Interaural Time Differences in the Rabbit 
Hearing research  2007;235(1-2):134-142.
An important cue for sound localization and separation of signals from noise is the interaural time difference (ITD). Humans are able to localize sounds within 1–2° and can detect very small changes in the ITD (10–20 μs). In contrast, many animals localize sounds with less precision than humans. Rabbits, for example, have sound localization thresholds of ~22°. There is only limited information about behavioral ITD discrimination in animals with poor sound localization acuity that are typically used for the neural recordings. For this study, we measured behavioral discrimination of ITDs in the rabbit for a range of reference ITDs from 0 to ± 300 μs. The behavioral task was conditioned avoidance and the stimulus was band-limited noise (500–1500 Hz). Across animals, the average discrimination threshold was 50–60 μs for reference ITDs of 0 to ± 200 μs. There was no trend in the thresholds across this range of reference ITDs. For a reference ITD of ± 300 μs, which is near the limit of the physiological window defined by the head width in this species, the discrimination threshold increased to ~100 μs. The ITD discrimination in rabbits less acute than in cats, which have a similar head size. This result supports the suggestion that ITD discrimination, like sound localization (see Heffner, 1997, Acta Otolaryngol Suppl 532:46–53, 1997) is determined by factors other than head size.
doi:10.1016/j.heares.2007.11.003
PMCID: PMC2692955  PMID: 18093767
Sound localization; animal psychoacoustics; neural discrimination
16.  Responses of Auditory Nerve and Anteroventral Cochlear Nucleus Fibers to Broadband and Narrowband Noise: Implications for the Sensitivity to Interaural Delays 
The quality of temporal coding of sound waveforms in the monaural afferents that converge on binaural neurons in the brainstem limits the sensitivity to temporal differences at the two ears. The anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) houses the cells that project to the binaural nuclei, which are known to have enhanced temporal coding of low-frequency sounds relative to auditory nerve (AN) fibers. We applied a coincidence analysis within the framework of detection theory to investigate the extent to which AVCN processing affects interaural time delay (ITD) sensitivity. Using monaural spike trains to a 1-s broadband or narrowband noise token, we emulated the binaural task of ITD discrimination and calculated just noticeable differences (jnds). The ITD jnds derived from AVCN neurons were lower than those derived from AN fibers, showing that the enhanced temporal coding in the AVCN improves binaural sensitivity to ITDs. AVCN processing also increased the dynamic range of ITD sensitivity and changed the shape of the frequency dependence of ITD sensitivity. Bandwidth dependence of ITD jnds from AN as well as AVCN fibers agreed with psychophysical data. These findings demonstrate that monaural preprocessing in the AVCN improves the temporal code in a way that is beneficial for binaural processing and may be crucial in achieving the exquisite sensitivity to ITDs observed in binaural pathways.
doi:10.1007/s10162-011-0268-1
PMCID: PMC3123442  PMID: 21567250
coincidence detection; interaural time difference; discrimination; binaural; sound localization
17.  Responses of Auditory Nerve and Anteroventral Cochlear Nucleus Fibers to Broadband and Narrowband Noise: Implications for the Sensitivity to Interaural Delays 
The quality of temporal coding of sound waveforms in the monaural afferents that converge on binaural neurons in the brainstem limits the sensitivity to temporal differences at the two ears. The anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) houses the cells that project to the binaural nuclei, which are known to have enhanced temporal coding of low-frequency sounds relative to auditory nerve (AN) fibers. We applied a coincidence analysis within the framework of detection theory to investigate the extent to which AVCN processing affects interaural time delay (ITD) sensitivity. Using monaural spike trains to a 1-s broadband or narrowband noise token, we emulated the binaural task of ITD discrimination and calculated just noticeable differences (jnds). The ITD jnds derived from AVCN neurons were lower than those derived from AN fibers, showing that the enhanced temporal coding in the AVCN improves binaural sensitivity to ITDs. AVCN processing also increased the dynamic range of ITD sensitivity and changed the shape of the frequency dependence of ITD sensitivity. Bandwidth dependence of ITD jnds from AN as well as AVCN fibers agreed with psychophysical data. These findings demonstrate that monaural preprocessing in the AVCN improves the temporal code in a way that is beneficial for binaural processing and may be crucial in achieving the exquisite sensitivity to ITDs observed in binaural pathways.
doi:10.1007/s10162-011-0268-1
PMCID: PMC3123442  PMID: 21567250
coincidence detection; interaural time difference; discrimination; binaural; sound localization
18.  Envelope Enhancement Increases Cortical Sensitivity to Interaural Envelope Delays with Acoustic and Electric Hearing 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104097.
Evidence from human psychophysical and animal electrophysiological studies suggests that sensitivity to interaural time delay (ITD) in the modulating envelope of a high-frequency carrier can be enhanced using half-wave rectified stimuli. Recent evidence has shown potential benefits of equivalent electrical stimuli to deaf individuals with bilateral cochlear implants (CIs). In the current study we assessed the effects of envelope shape on ITD sensitivity in the primary auditory cortex of normal-hearing ferrets, and profoundly-deaf animals with bilateral CIs. In normal-hearing animals, cortical sensitivity to ITDs (±1 ms in 0.1-ms steps) was assessed in response to dichotically-presented i) sinusoidal amplitude-modulated (SAM) and ii) half-wave rectified (HWR) tones (100-ms duration; 70 dB SPL) presented at the best-frequency of the unit over a range of modulation frequencies. In separate experiments, adult ferrets were deafened with neomycin administration and bilaterally-implanted with intra-cochlear electrode arrays. Electrically-evoked auditory brainstem responses (EABRs) were recorded in response to bipolar electrical stimulation of the apical pair of electrodes with singe biphasic current pulses (40 µs per phase) over a range of current levels to measure hearing thresholds. Subsequently, we recorded cortical sensitivity to ITDs (±800 µs in 80-µs steps) within the envelope of SAM and HWR biphasic-pulse trains (40 µs per phase; 6000 pulses per second, 100-ms duration) over a range of modulation frequencies. In normal-hearing animals, nearly a third of cortical neurons were sensitive to envelope-ITDs in response to SAM tones. In deaf animals with bilateral CI, the proportion of ITD-sensitive cortical neurons was approximately a fifth in response to SAM pulse trains. In normal-hearing and deaf animals with bilateral CI the proportion of ITD sensitive units and neural sensitivity to ITDs increased in response to HWR, compared with SAM stimuli. Consequently, novel stimulation strategies based on envelope enhancement may prove beneficial to individuals with bilateral cochlear implants.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104097
PMCID: PMC4122409  PMID: 25093417
19.  The Neural Code for Auditory Space Depends on Sound Frequency and Head Size in an Optimal Manner 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e108154.
A major cue to the location of a sound source is the interaural time difference (ITD)–the difference in sound arrival time at the two ears. The neural representation of this auditory cue is unresolved. The classic model of ITD coding, dominant for a half-century, posits that the distribution of best ITDs (the ITD evoking a neuron’s maximal response) is unimodal and largely within the range of ITDs permitted by head-size. This is often interpreted as a place code for source location. An alternative model, based on neurophysiology in small mammals, posits a bimodal distribution of best ITDs with exquisite sensitivity to ITDs generated by means of relative firing rates between the distributions. Recently, an optimal-coding model was proposed, unifying the disparate features of these two models under the framework of efficient coding by neural populations. The optimal-coding model predicts that distributions of best ITDs depend on head size and sound frequency: for high frequencies and large heads it resembles the classic model, for low frequencies and small head sizes it resembles the bimodal model. The optimal-coding model makes key, yet unobserved, predictions: for many species, including humans, both forms of neural representation are employed, depending on sound frequency. Furthermore, novel representations are predicted for intermediate frequencies. Here, we examine these predictions in neurophysiological data from five mammalian species: macaque, guinea pig, cat, gerbil and kangaroo rat. We present the first evidence supporting these untested predictions, and demonstrate that different representations appear to be employed at different sound frequencies in the same species.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0108154
PMCID: PMC4220907  PMID: 25372405
20.  Detection of Large Interaural Delays and Its Implication for Models of Binaural Interaction  
The interaural time difference (ITD) is a major cue to sound localization along the horizontal plane. The maximum natural ITD occurs when a sound source is positioned opposite to one ear. We examined the ability of owls and humans to detect large ITDs in sounds presented through headphones. Stimuli consisted of either broad or narrow bands of Gaussian noise, 100 ms in duration. Using headphones allowed presentation of ITDs that are greater than the maximum natural ITD. Owls were able to discriminate a sound leading to the left ear from one leading to the right ear, for ITDs that are 5 times the maximum natural delay. Neural recordings from optic-tectum neurons, however, show that best ITDs are usually well within the natural range and are never as large as ITDs that are behaviorally discriminable. A model of binaural cross-correlation with short delay lines is shown to explain behavioral detection of large ITDs. The model uses curved trajectories of a cross-correlation pattern as the basis for detection. These trajectories represent side peaks of neural ITD-tuning curves and successfully predict localization reversals by both owls and human subjects.
doi:10.1007/s101620020006
PMCID: PMC3202365  PMID: 12083726
interaural; binaural; owl; ITD
21.  Frequency-Invariant Representation of Interaural Time Differences in Mammals 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(3):e1002013.
Interaural time differences (ITDs) are the major cue for localizing low-frequency sounds. The activity of neuronal populations in the brainstem encodes ITDs with an exquisite temporal acuity of about . The response of single neurons, however, also changes with other stimulus properties like the spectral composition of sound. The influence of stimulus frequency is very different across neurons and thus it is unclear how ITDs are encoded independently of stimulus frequency by populations of neurons. Here we fitted a statistical model to single-cell rate responses of the dorsal nucleus of the lateral lemniscus. The model was used to evaluate the impact of single-cell response characteristics on the frequency-invariant mutual information between rate response and ITD. We found a rough correspondence between the measured cell characteristics and those predicted by computing mutual information. Furthermore, we studied two readout mechanisms, a linear classifier and a two-channel rate difference decoder. The latter turned out to be better suited to decode the population patterns obtained from the fitted model.
Author Summary
Neuronal codes are usually studied by estimating how much information the brain activity carries about the stimulus. On a single cell level, the relevant features of neuronal activity such as the firing rate or spike timing are readily available. On a population level, where many neurons together encode a stimulus property, finding the most appropriate activity features is less obvious, particularly because the neurons respond with a huge cell-to-cell variability. Here, using the example of the neuronal representation of interaural time differences, we show that the quality of the population code strongly depends on the assumption — or the model — of the population readout. We argue that invariances are useful constraints to identify “good” population codes. Based on these ideas, we suggest that the representation of interaural time differences serves a two-channel code in which the difference between the summed activities of the neurons in the two hemispheres exhibits an invariant and linear dependence on interaural time difference.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002013
PMCID: PMC3060160  PMID: 21445227
22.  Responses to Interaural Time Delay in Human Cortex 
Journal of Neurophysiology  2008;100(5):2712-2718.
Humans use differences in the timing of sounds at the two ears to determine the location of a sound source. Various models have been posited for the neural representation of these interaural time differences (ITDs). These models make opposing predictions about the lateralization of ITD processing in the human brain. The weighted-image model predicts that sounds leading in time at one ear activate maximally the opposite brain hemisphere for all values of ITD. In contrast, the π-limit model assumes that ITDs beyond half the period of the stimulus center frequency are not explicitly encoded in the brain and that such “long” ITDs activate maximally the side of the brain to which the sound is heard. A previous neuroimaging study revealed activity in the human inferior colliculus consistent with the π-limit. Here we show that cortical responses to sounds with ITDs within the π-limit are in line with the predictions of both models. However, contrary to the immediate predictions of both models, neural activation is bilateral for “long” ITDs, despite these being perceived as clearly lateralized. Furthermore, processing of long ITDs leads to higher activation in cortex than processing of short ITDs. These data show that coding of ITD in cortex is fundamentally different from coding of ITD in the brain stem. We discuss these results in the context of the two models.
doi:10.1152/jn.90210.2008
PMCID: PMC2585401  PMID: 18799604
23.  Factors that account for inter-individual variability of lateralization performance revealed by correlations of performance among multiple psychoacoustical tasks 
This study explored the source of inter-listener variability in the performance of lateralization tasks based on interaural time or level differences (ITDs or ILDs) by examining correlation of performance between pairs of multiple psychoacoustical tasks. The ITD, ILD, Time, and Level tasks were intended to measure sensitivities to ITD; ILD; temporal fine structure or envelope of the stimulus encoded by the neural phase locking; and stimulus level, respectively. Stimuli in low- and high-frequency regions were tested. The low-frequency stimulus was a harmonic complex (F0 = 100 Hz) that was spectrally shaped for the frequency region around the 11th harmonic. The high frequency stimulus was a “transposed stimulus,” which was a 4-kHz tone amplitude-modulated with a half-wave rectified 125-Hz sinusoid. The task procedures were essentially the same between the low- and high-frequency stimuli. Generally, the thresholds for pairs of ITD and ILD tasks, across cues or frequencies, exhibited significant positive correlations, suggesting a common mechanism across cues and frequencies underlying the lateralization tasks. For the high frequency stimulus, there was a significant positive correlation of performance between the ITD and Time tasks. A significant positive correlation was found also in the pair of ILD and Level tasks for the low- frequency stimulus. These results indicate that the inter-listener variability of ITD and ILD sensitivities could be accounted for partially by the variability of monaural efficiency of neural phase locking and intensity coding, respectively, depending of frequency.
doi:10.3389/fnins.2014.00027
PMCID: PMC3923152  PMID: 24592207
interaural time difference; interaural level difference; level discrimination; correlation; temporal fine structure; phase locking
24.  Emergence of Multiplicative Auditory Responses in the Midbrain of the Barn Owl 
Journal of neurophysiology  2007;98(3):1181-1193.
Space-specific neurons in the barn owl’s auditory space map gain spatial selectivity through tuning to combinations of the interaural time difference (ITD) and interaural level difference (ILD). The combination of ITD and ILD in the subthreshold responses of space-specific neurons in the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICx) is well described by a multiplication of ITD- and ILD-dependent components. It is unknown, however, how ITD and ILD are combined at the site of ITD and ILD convergence in the lateral shell of the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICcl) and therefore whether ICx is the first site in the auditory pathway where multiplicative tuning to ITD-and ILD-dependent signals occurs. We used extracellular re-cording of single neurons to determine how ITD and ILD are combined in ICcl of the anesthetized barn owl (Tyto alba). A comparison of additive, multiplicative, and linear-threshold models of neural responses shows that ITD and ILD are combined nonlinearly in ICcl, but the interaction of ITD and ILD is not uniformly multiplicative over the sample. A subset (61%) of the neural responses is well described by the multiplicative model, indicating that ICcl is the first site where multiplicative tuning to ITD- and ILD-dependent signals occurs. ICx, however, is the first site where multiplicative tuning is observed consistently. A network model shows that a linear combination of ICcl responses to ITD–ILD pairs is sufficient to produce the multiplicative subthreshold responses to ITD and ILD seen in ICx.
doi:10.1152/jn.00370.2007
PMCID: PMC2532518  PMID: 17615132
25.  Multiplicative Auditory Spatial Receptive Fields Created by a Hierarchy of Population Codes 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e8015.
A multiplicative combination of tuning to interaural time difference (ITD) and interaural level difference (ILD) contributes to the generation of spatially selective auditory neurons in the owl's midbrain. Previous analyses of multiplicative responses in the owl have not taken into consideration the frequency-dependence of ITD and ILD cues that occur under natural listening conditions. Here, we present a model for the responses of ITD- and ILD-sensitive neurons in the barn owl's inferior colliculus which satisfies constraints raised by experimental data on frequency convergence, multiplicative interaction of ITD and ILD, and response properties of afferent neurons. We propose that multiplication between ITD- and ILD-dependent signals occurs only within frequency channels and that frequency integration occurs using a linear-threshold mechanism. The model reproduces the experimentally observed nonlinear responses to ITD and ILD in the inferior colliculus, with greater accuracy than previous models. We show that linear-threshold frequency integration allows the system to represent multiple sound sources with natural sound localization cues, whereas multiplicative frequency integration does not. Nonlinear responses in the owl's inferior colliculus can thus be generated using a combination of cellular and network mechanisms, showing that multiple elements of previous theories can be combined in a single system.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008015
PMCID: PMC2776990  PMID: 19956693

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