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1.  Developmental Changes Underlying the Formation of the Specialized Time Coding Circuits in Barn Owls (Tyto alba) 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2002;22(17):7671-7679.
Barn owls are capable of great accuracy in detecting the interaural time differences (ITDs) that underlie azimuthal sound localization. They compute ITDs in a circuit in nucleus laminaris (NL) that is reorganized with respect to birds like the chicken. The events that lead to the reorganization of the barn owl NL take place during embryonic development, shortly after the cochlear and laminaris nuclei have differentiated morphologically. At first the developing owl’s auditory brainstem exhibits morphology reminiscent of that of the developing chicken. Later, the two systems diverge, and the owl’s brainstem auditory nuclei undergo a secondary morphogenetic phase during which NL dendrites retract, the laminar organization is lost, and synapses are redistributed. These events lead to the restructuring of the ITD coding circuit and the consequent reorganization of the hindbrain map of ITDs and azimuthal space.
PMCID: PMC3260528  PMID: 12196590
avian development; morphogenesis; auditory; laminaris; evolution; interaural time difference
2.  Interaural timing difference circuits in the auditory brainstem of the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) 
In the auditory system, precise encoding of temporal information is critical for sound localization, a task with direct behavioral relevance. Interaural timing differences are computed using axonal delay lines and cellular coincidence detectors in nucleus laminaris (NL). We present morphological and physiological data on the timing circuits in the emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, and compare these results with those from the barn owl (Tyto alba) and the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). Emu NL was composed of a compact monolayer of bitufted neurons whose two thick primary dendrites were oriented dorsoventrally. They showed a gradient in dendritic length along the presumed tonotopic axis. The NL and nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons were strongly immunoreactive for parvalbumin, a calcium-binding protein. Antibodies against synaptic vesicle protein 2 and glutamic acid decarboxlyase revealed that excitatory synapses terminated heavily on the dendritic tufts, while inhibitory terminals were distributed more uniformly. Physiological recordings from brainstem slices demonstrated contralateral delay lines from NM to NL. During whole-cell patch-clamp recordings, NM and NL neurons fired single spikes and were doubly-rectifying. NL and NM neurons had input resistances of 30.0 ± 19.9 MΩ and 49.0 ± 25.6 MΩ, respectively, and membrane time constants of 12.8 ± 3.8 ms and 3.9 ± 0.2 ms. These results provide further support for the Jeffress model for sound localization in birds. The emu timing circuits showed the ancestral (plesiomorphic) pattern in their anatomy and physiology, while differences in dendritic structure compared to chick and owl may indicate specialization for encoding ITDs at low best frequencies.
doi:10.1002/cne.20862
PMCID: PMC2948976  PMID: 16435285
avian; nucleus laminaris; nucleus magnocellularis; dendrite; coincidence detection; sound localization
3.  Preservation of Spectrotemporal Tuning Between the Nucleus Laminaris and the Inferior Colliculus of the Barn Owl 
Journal of neurophysiology  2007;97(5):3544-3553.
Performing sound recognition is a task that requires an encoding of the time-varying spectral structure of the auditory stimulus. Similarly, computation of the interaural time difference (ITD) requires knowledge of the precise timing of the stimulus. Consistent with this, low-level nuclei of birds and mammals implicated in ITD processing encode the ongoing phase of a stimulus. However, the brain areas that follow the binaural convergence for the computation of ITD show a reduced capacity for phase locking. In addition, we have shown that in the barn owl there is a pooling of ITD-responsive neurons to improve the reliability of ITD coding. Here we demonstrate that despite two stages of convergence and an effective loss of phase information, the auditory system of the anesthetized barn owl displays a graceful transition to an envelope coding that preserves the spectrotemporal information throughout the ITD pathway to the neurons of the core of the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus.
doi:10.1152/jn.01162.2006
PMCID: PMC2532515  PMID: 17314241
4.  The representation of sound localization cues in the barn owl's inferior colliculus 
The barn owl is a well-known model system for studying auditory processing and sound localization. This article reviews the morphological and functional organization, as well as the role of the underlying microcircuits, of the barn owl's inferior colliculus (IC). We focus on the processing of frequency and interaural time (ITD) and level differences (ILD). We first summarize the morphology of the sub-nuclei belonging to the IC and their differentiation by antero- and retrograde labeling and by staining with various antibodies. We then focus on the response properties of neurons in the three major sub-nuclei of IC [core of the central nucleus of the IC (ICCc), lateral shell of the central nucleus of the IC (ICCls), and the external nucleus of the IC (ICX)]. ICCc projects to ICCls, which in turn sends its information to ICX. The responses of neurons in ICCc are sensitive to changes in ITD but not to changes in ILD. The distribution of ITD sensitivity with frequency in ICCc can only partly be explained by optimal coding. We continue with the tuning properties of ICCls neurons, the first station in the midbrain where the ITD and ILD pathways merge after they have split at the level of the cochlear nucleus. The ICCc and ICCls share similar ITD and frequency tuning. By contrast, ICCls shows sigmoidal ILD tuning which is absent in ICCc. Both ICCc and ICCls project to the forebrain, and ICCls also projects to ICX, where space-specific neurons are found. Space-specific neurons exhibit side peak suppression in ITD tuning, bell-shaped ILD tuning, and are broadly tuned to frequency. These neurons respond only to restricted positions of auditory space and form a map of two-dimensional auditory space. Finally, we briefly review major IC features, including multiplication-like computations, correlates of echo suppression, plasticity, and adaptation.
doi:10.3389/fncir.2012.00045
PMCID: PMC3394089  PMID: 22798945
sound localization; central nucleus of the inferior colliculus; auditory; plasticity; adaptation; interaural time difference; interaural level difference; frequency tuning
5.  Biophysical basis of the sound analog membrane potential that underlies coincidence detection in the barn owl 
Interaural time difference (ITD), or the difference in timing of a sound wave arriving at the two ears, is a fundamental cue for sound localization. A wide variety of animals have specialized neural circuits dedicated to the computation of ITDs. In the avian auditory brainstem, ITDs are encoded as the spike rates in the coincidence detector neurons of the nucleus laminaris (NL). NL neurons compare the binaural phase-locked inputs from the axons of ipsi- and contralateral nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons. Intracellular recordings from the barn owl's NL in vivo showed that tonal stimuli induce oscillations in the membrane potential. Since this oscillatory potential resembled the stimulus sound waveform, it was named the sound analog potential (Funabiki et al., 2011). Previous modeling studies suggested that a convergence of phase-locked spikes from NM leads to an oscillatory membrane potential in NL, but how presynaptic, synaptic, and postsynaptic factors affect the formation of the sound analog potential remains to be investigated. In the accompanying paper, we derive analytical relations between these parameters and the signal and noise components of the oscillation. In this paper, we focus on the effects of the number of presynaptic NM fibers, the mean firing rate of these fibers, their average degree of phase-locking, and the synaptic time scale. Theoretical analyses and numerical simulations show that, provided the total synaptic input is kept constant, changes in the number and spike rate of NM fibers alter the ITD-independent noise whereas the degree of phase-locking is linearly converted to the ITD-dependent signal component of the sound analog potential. The synaptic time constant affects the signal more prominently than the noise, making faster synaptic input more suitable for effective ITD computation.
doi:10.3389/fncom.2013.00102
PMCID: PMC3821004  PMID: 24265615
phase-locking; sound localization; auditory brainstem; periodic signals; oscillation; owl
6.  Binaural Gain Modulation of Spectrotemporal Tuning in the Interaural Level Difference-Coding Pathway 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(27):11089-11099.
In the brainstem, the auditory system diverges into two pathways that process different sound localization cues, interaural time differences (ITDs) and level differences (ILDs). We investigated the site where ILD is detected in the auditory system of barn owls, the posterior part of the lateral lemniscus (LLDp). This structure is equivalent to the lateral superior olive in mammals. The LLDp is unique in that it is the first place of binaural convergence in the brainstem where monaural excitatory and inhibitory inputs converge. Using binaurally uncorrelated noise and a generalized linear model, we were able to estimate the spectrotemporal tuning of excitatory and inhibitory inputs to these cells. We show that the response of LLDp neurons is highly locked to the stimulus envelope. Our data demonstrate that spectrotemporally tuned, temporally delayed inhibition enhances the reliability of envelope locking by modulating the gain of LLDp neurons' responses. The dependence of gain modulation on ILD shown here constitutes a means for space-dependent coding of stimulus identity by the initial stages of the auditory pathway.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4941-12.2013
PMCID: PMC3718367  PMID: 23825414
7.  Theoretical foundations of the sound analog membrane potential that underlies coincidence detection in the barn owl 
A wide variety of neurons encode temporal information via phase-locked spikes. In the avian auditory brainstem, neurons in the cochlear nucleus magnocellularis (NM) send phase-locked synaptic inputs to coincidence detector neurons in the nucleus laminaris (NL) that mediate sound localization. Previous modeling studies suggested that converging phase-locked synaptic inputs may give rise to a periodic oscillation in the membrane potential of their target neuron. Recent physiological recordings in vivo revealed that owl NL neurons changed their spike rates almost linearly with the amplitude of this oscillatory potential. The oscillatory potential was termed the sound analog potential, because of its resemblance to the waveform of the stimulus tone. The amplitude of the sound analog potential recorded in NL varied systematically with the interaural time difference (ITD), which is one of the most important cues for sound localization. In order to investigate the mechanisms underlying ITD computation in the NM-NL circuit, we provide detailed theoretical descriptions of how phase-locked inputs form oscillating membrane potentials. We derive analytical expressions that relate presynaptic, synaptic, and postsynaptic factors to the signal and noise components of the oscillation in both the synaptic conductance and the membrane potential. Numerical simulations demonstrate the validity of the theoretical formulations for the entire frequency ranges tested (1–8 kHz) and potential effects of higher harmonics on NL neurons with low best frequencies (<2 kHz).
doi:10.3389/fncom.2013.00151
PMCID: PMC3821005  PMID: 24265616
phase-locking; sound localization; auditory brainstem; periodic signals; oscillation; owl
8.  Modeling the Nucleus Laminaris of the Barn Owl: Achieving 20 ps Resolution on a 85-MHz-Clocked Digital Device 
The nucleus laminaris of the barn owl auditory system is quite impressive, since its underlying time estimation is much better than the processing speed of the involved neurons. Since precise localization is also very important in many technical applications, this paper explores to what extent the main principles of the nucleus laminaris can be implemented in digital hardware. The first prototypical implementation yields a time resolution of about 20 ps, even though the chosen standard, low-cost device is clocked at only 85 MHz, which leads to an internal duty cycle of approximately 12 ns. In addition, this paper also explores the utility of an advanced sampling scheme, known as unfolding-in-time. It turns out that with this sampling method, the prototype can easily process input signals of up to 300 MHz, which is almost four times higher than the sampling rate.
doi:10.3389/fncom.2012.00006
PMCID: PMC3270320  PMID: 22347179
nucleus laminaris; barn owl; high resolution time measurement; localization; FPGA
9.  Comparison of Midbrain and Thalamic Space-Specific Neurons in Barn Owls 
Journal of neurophysiology  2006;95(2):783-790.
Spatial receptive fields of neurons in the auditory pathway of the barn owl result from the sensitivity to combinations of interaural time (ITD) and level differences across stimulus frequency. Both the forebrain and tectum of the owl contain such neurons. The neural pathways, which lead to the forebrain and tectal representations of auditory space, separate before the midbrain map of auditory space is synthesized. The first nuclei that belong exclusively to either the forebrain or the tectal pathways are the nucleus ovoidalis (Ov) and the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICx), respectively. Both receive projections from the lateral shell subdivision of the inferior colliculus but are not interconnected. Previous studies indicate that the owl’s tectal representation of auditory space is different from those found in the owl’s forebrain and the mammalian brain. We addressed the question of whether the computation of spatial cues in both pathways is the same by comparing the ITD tuning of Ov and ICx neurons. Unlike in ICx, the relationship between frequency and ITD tuning had not been studied in single Ov units. In contrast to the conspicuous frequency independent ITD tuning of space-specific neurons of ICx, ITD selectivity varied with frequency in Ov. We also observed that the spatially tuned neurons of Ov respond to lower frequencies and are more broadly tuned to ITD than in ICx. Thus there are differences in the integration of frequency and ITD in the two sound-localization pathways. Thalamic neurons integrate spatial information not only within a broader frequency band but also across ITD channels.
doi:10.1152/jn.00833.2005
PMCID: PMC2532520  PMID: 16424454
10.  Modeling coincidence detection in nucleus laminaris 
Biological Cybernetics  2003;89(5):388-396.
A biologically detailed model of the binaural avian nucleus laminaris is constructed, as a two-dimensional array of multicompartment, conductance-based neurons, along tonotopic and interaural time delay (ITD) axes. The model is based primarily on data from chick nucleus laminaris. Typical chick-like parameters perform ITD discrimination up to 2 kHz, and enhancements for barn owl perform ITD discrimination up to 6 kHz. The dendritic length gradient of NL is explained concisely. The response to binaural out-of-phase input is suppressed well below the response to monaural input (without any spontaneous activity on the opposite side), implicating active potassium channels as crucial to good ITD discrimination.
doi:10.1007/s00422-003-0444-4
PMCID: PMC3269635  PMID: 14669019
11.  Noise Reduction of Coincidence Detector Output by the Inferior Colliculus of the Barn Owl 
A recurring theme in theoretical work is that integration over populations of similarly tuned neurons can reduce neural noise. However, there are relatively few demonstrations of an explicit noise reduction mechanism in a neural network. Here we demonstrate that the brainstem of the barn owl includes a stage of processing apparently devoted to increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in the encoding of the interaural time difference (ITD), one of two primary binaural cues used to compute the position of a sound source in space. In the barn owl, the ITD is processed in a dedicated neural pathway that terminates at the core of the inferior colliculus (ICcc). The actual locus of the computation of the ITD is before ICcc in the nucleus laminaris (NL), and ICcc receives no inputs carrying information that did not originate in NL. Unlike in NL, the rate-ITD functions of ICcc neurons require as little as a single stimulus presentation per ITD to show coherent ITD tuning. ICcc neurons also displayed a greater dynamic range with a maximal difference in ITD response rates approximately double that seen in NL. These results indicate that ICcc neurons perform a computation functionally analogous to averaging across a population of similarly tuned NL neurons.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0220-06.2006
PMCID: PMC2492673  PMID: 16738236
interaural time difference; sound localization; inferior colliculus; nucleus laminaris; barn owl; pooling
12.  Detection of Interaural Time Differences in the Alligator 
The auditory systems of birds and mammals use timing information from each ear to detect interaural time difference (ITD). To determine whether the Jeffress-type algorithms that underlie sensitivity to ITD in birds are an evolutionarily stable strategy, we recorded from the auditory nuclei of crocodilians, who are the sister group to the birds. In alligators, precisely timed spikes in the first-order nucleus magnocellularis (NM) encode the timing of sounds, and NM neurons project to neurons in the nucleus laminaris (NL) that detect interaural time differences. In vivo recordings from NL neurons show that the arrival time of phase-locked spikes differs between the ipsilateral and contralateral inputs. When this disparity is nullified by their best ITD, the neurons respond maximally. Thus NL neurons act as coincidence detectors. A biologically detailed model of NL with alligator parameters discriminated ITDs up to 1 kHz. The range of best ITDs represented in NL was much larger than in birds, however, and extended from 0 to 1000 μs contralateral, with a median ITD of 450 μs. Thus, crocodilians and birds employ similar algorithms for ITD detection, although crocodilians have larger heads.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6154-08.2009
PMCID: PMC3170862  PMID: 19553438
13.  Difference in response reliability predicted by spectrotemporal tuning in the cochlear nuclei of barn owls 
The brainstem auditory pathway is obligatory for all aural information. Brainstem auditory neurons must encode the level and timing of sounds, as well as their time-dependent spectral properties, the fine structure and envelope, which are essential for sound discrimination. This study focused on envelope coding in the two cochlear nuclei of the barn owl, nucleus angularis (NA) and nucleus magnocellularis (NM). NA and NM receive input from bifurcating auditory nerve fibers and initiate processing pathways specialized in encoding interaural time (ITD) and level (ILD) differences, respectively. We found that NA neurons, though unable to accurately encode stimulus phase, lock more strongly to the stimulus envelope than NM units. The spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs) of NA neurons exhibit a pre-excitatory suppressive field. Using multilinear regression analysis and computational modeling, we show that this feature of STRFs can account for enhanced across-trial response reliability, by locking spikes to the stimulus envelope. Our findings indicate a dichotomy in envelope coding between the time and intensity processing pathways as early as at the level of the cochlear nuclei. This allows the ILD processing pathway to encode envelope information with greater fidelity than the ITD processing pathway. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the properties of the neurons’ STRFs can be quantitatively related to spike timing reliability.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5422-10.2011
PMCID: PMC3059808  PMID: 21368035
Nucleus angularis; STRF; spectrotemporal tuning; cochlear nuclei; barn owl; response reliability
14.  The analysis of interaural time differences in the chick brain stem 
Physiology & behavior  2005;86(3):297-305.
The brain stem auditory system of the chick has proven to be a useful model system for analyzing how the brain encodes temporal information. This paper reviews some of the work on a circuit in the brain stem that compares the timing of information coming from the two ears to determine the location of a sound source. The contralateral projection from the cochlear nucleus, nucleus magnocellularis (NM), to nucleus laminaris (NL) forms a delay line as it proceeds from medial to lateral across NL. NL neurons function like coincidence detectors in that they respond maximally when input from the two ears arrive simultaneously. This arrangement may allow NL to code sound space by the relative level of activity across the nucleus. The head anatomy of the chick allows for enhancement of the functional interaural time differences. Comparing the functional interaural time differences to the length of the neural delay line suggests that each NL can encode approximately one hemifield of sound space. Finally it is suggested that inhibitory input into the NM–NL circuit may provide a means to dynamically adjust the gain of the circuit to allow accurate coding of sound location despite changes in overall sound intensity.
doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2005.08.003
PMCID: PMC1847356  PMID: 16202434
Auditory system; Sound localization; Nucleus magnocellularis; Nucleus laminaris; Coincidence detection; Interaural canal; GABA
15.  Localization of KCNC1 (Kv3.1) Potassium Channel Subunits in the Avian Auditory Nucleus Magnocellularis and Nucleus Laminaris during Development 
Journal of Neurobiology  2003;55(2):165-178.
The KCNC1 (previously Kv3.1) potassium channel, a delayed rectifier with a high threshold of activation, is highly expressed in the time coding nuclei of the adult chicken and barn owl auditory brainstem. The proposed role of KCNC1 currents in auditory neurons is to reduce the width of the action potential and enable neurons to transmit high frequency temporal information with little jitter. Because developmental changes in potassium currents are critical for the maturation of the shape of the action potential, we used immunohistochemical methods to examine the developmental expression of KCNC1 subunits in the avian auditory brainstem. The KCNC1 gene gives rise to two splice variants, a longer KCNC1b and a shorter KCNC1a that differ at the carboxy termini. Two antibodies were used: an antibody to the N-terminus that does not distinguish between KCNC1a and b isoforms, denoted as panKCNC1, and another antibody that specifically recognizes the C terminus of KCNC1b. A comparison of the staining patterns observed with the pan-KCNC1 and the KCNC1b specific antibodies suggests that KCNC1a and KCNC1b splice variants are differentially regulated during development. Although pan-KCNC1 immunoreactivity is observed from the earliest time examined in the chicken (E10), a subcellular redistribution of the immunoproduct was apparent over the course of development. KCNC1b specific staining has a late onset with immunostaining first appearing in the regions that map high frequencies in nucleus magnocellularis (NM) and nucleus laminaris (NL). The expression of KCNC1b protein begins around E14 in the chicken and after E21 in the barn owl, relatively late during ontogeny and at the time that synaptic connections mature morphologically and functionally.
doi:10.1002/neu.10198
PMCID: PMC3268178  PMID: 12672015
chicken; barn owl; ontogeny; time coding; outward current; high threshold
16.  Delay Selection by Spike-Timing-Dependent Plasticity in Recurrent Networks of Spiking Neurons Receiving Oscillatory Inputs 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(2):e1002897.
Learning rules, such as spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP), change the structure of networks of neurons based on the firing activity. A network level understanding of these mechanisms can help infer how the brain learns patterns and processes information. Previous studies have shown that STDP selectively potentiates feed-forward connections that have specific axonal delays, and that this underlies behavioral functions such as sound localization in the auditory brainstem of the barn owl. In this study, we investigate how STDP leads to the selective potentiation of recurrent connections with different axonal and dendritic delays during oscillatory activity. We develop analytical models of learning with additive STDP in recurrent networks driven by oscillatory inputs, and support the results using simulations with leaky integrate-and-fire neurons. Our results show selective potentiation of connections with specific axonal delays, which depended on the input frequency. In addition, we demonstrate how this can lead to a network becoming selective in the amplitude of its oscillatory response to this frequency. We extend this model of axonal delay selection within a single recurrent network in two ways. First, we show the selective potentiation of connections with a range of both axonal and dendritic delays. Second, we show axonal delay selection between multiple groups receiving out-of-phase, oscillatory inputs. We discuss the application of these models to the formation and activation of neuronal ensembles or cell assemblies in the cortex, and also to missing fundamental pitch perception in the auditory brainstem.
Author Summary
Our brain's ability to perform cognitive processes, such as object identification, problem solving, and decision making, comes from the specific connections between neurons. The neurons carry information as spikes that are transmitted to other neurons via connections with different strengths and propagation delays. Experimentally observed learning rules can modify the strengths of connections between neurons based on the timing of their spikes. The learning that occurs in neuronal networks due to these rules is thought to be vital to creating the structures necessary for different cognitive processes as well as for memory. The spiking rate of populations of neurons has been observed to oscillate at particular frequencies in various brain regions, and there is evidence that these oscillations play a role in cognition. Here, we use analytical and numerical methods to investigate the changes to the network structure caused by a specific learning rule during oscillatory neural activity. We find the conditions under which connections with propagation delays that resonate with the oscillations are strengthened relative to the other connections. We demonstrate that networks learn to oscillate more strongly to oscillations at the frequency they were presented with during learning. We discuss the possible application of these results to specific areas of the brain.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002897
PMCID: PMC3567188  PMID: 23408878
17.  Functional Delay of Myelination of Auditory Delay Lines in the Nucleus Laminaris of the Barn Owl 
Developmental Neurobiology  2007;67(14):1957-1974.
In the barn owl, maps of interaural time difference (ITD) are created in the nucleus laminaris (NL) by interdigitating axons that act as delay lines. Adult delay line axons are myelinated, and this myelination is timely, coinciding with the attainment of adult head size, and stable ITD cues. The proximal portions of the axons become myelinated in late embryonic life, but the delay line portions of the axon in NL remain unmyelinated until the first postnatal week. Myelination of the delay lines peaks at the third week posthatch, and myelinating oligodendrocyte density approaches adult levels by one month, when the head reaches its adult width. Migration of oligodendrocyte progenitors into NL and the subsequent onset of myelination may be restricted by a glial barrier in late embryonic stages and the first posthatch week, since the loss of tenascin-C immunoreactivity in NL is correlated with oligodendrocyte progenitor migration into NL.
doi:10.1002/dneu.20541
PMCID: PMC3269634  PMID: 17918244
auditory delay lines; nucleus laminaris; myelination; oligodendrocyte progenitor migration; tenascin-C
18.  Improvements of Sound Localization Abilities by the Facial Ruff of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) as Demonstrated by Virtual Ruff Removal 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7721.
Background
When sound arrives at the eardrum it has already been filtered by the body, head, and outer ear. This process is mathematically described by the head-related transfer functions (HRTFs), which are characteristic for the spatial position of a sound source and for the individual ear. HRTFs in the barn owl (Tyto alba) are also shaped by the facial ruff, a specialization that alters interaural time differences (ITD), interaural intensity differences (ILD), and the frequency spectrum of the incoming sound to improve sound localization. Here we created novel stimuli to simulate the removal of the barn owl's ruff in a virtual acoustic environment, thus creating a situation similar to passive listening in other animals, and used these stimuli in behavioral tests.
Methodology/Principal Findings
HRTFs were recorded from an owl before and after removal of the ruff feathers. Normal and ruff-removed conditions were created by filtering broadband noise with the HRTFs. Under normal virtual conditions, no differences in azimuthal head-turning behavior between individualized and non-individualized HRTFs were observed. The owls were able to respond differently to stimuli from the back than to stimuli from the front having the same ITD. By contrast, such a discrimination was not possible after the virtual removal of the ruff. Elevational head-turn angles were (slightly) smaller with non-individualized than with individualized HRTFs. The removal of the ruff resulted in a large decrease in elevational head-turning amplitudes.
Conclusions/Significance
The facial ruff a) improves azimuthal sound localization by increasing the ITD range and b) improves elevational sound localization in the frontal field by introducing a shift of iso–ILD lines out of the midsagittal plane, which causes ILDs to increase with increasing stimulus elevation. The changes at the behavioral level could be related to the changes in the binaural physical parameters that occurred after the virtual removal of the ruff. These data provide new insights into the function of external hearing structures and open up the possibility to apply the results on autonomous agents, creation of virtual auditory environments for humans, or in hearing aids.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007721
PMCID: PMC2766829  PMID: 19890389
19.  Connections of the Auditory Brainstem in a Songbird, Taeniopygia guttata. I. Projections of Nucleus Angularis and Nucleus Laminaris to the Auditory Torus 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(11):10.1002/cne.22334.
Auditory information is important for social and reproductive behaviors in birds generally, but is crucial for oscine species (songbirds), in particular because in these species auditory feedback ensures the learning and accurate maintenance of song. While there is considerable information on the auditory projections through the forebrain of songbirds, there is no information available for projections through the brainstem. At the latter levels the prevalent model of auditory processing in birds derives from an auditory specialist, the barn owl, which uses time and intensity parameters to compute the location of sounds in space, but whether the auditory brainstem of songbirds is similarly functionally organized is unknown. To examine the songbird auditory brainstem we charted the projections of the cochlear nuclei angularis (NA) and magnocellularis (NM) and the third-order nucleus laminaris (NL) in zebra finches using standard tract-tracing techniques. As in other avian species, the projections of NM were found to be confined to NL, and NL and NA provided the ascending projections. Here we report on differential projections of NA and NL to the torus semicircularis, known in birds as nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis, pars dorsalis (MLd), and in mammals as the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICc). Unlike the case in nonsongbirds, the projections of NA and NL to MLd in the zebra finch showed substantial overlap, in agreement with the projections of the cochlear nuclei to the ICc in mammals. This organization could suggest that the “what” of auditory stimuli is as important as “where.”
doi:10.1002/cne.22334
PMCID: PMC3862038  PMID: 20394061
cochlear nuclei; central nucleus of inferior colliculus; MLd; zebra finch; avian
20.  Spatial hearing in echoic environments: The role of the envelope in owls 
Neuron  2010;67(4):643-655.
Summary
In the precedence effect, sounds emanating directly from the source are localized preferentially over their reflections. Although most studies have focused on the delay between the onset of a sound and its echo, humans still experience the precedence effect when this onset delay is removed. We tested in barn owls the hypothesis that an ongoing delay, equivalent to the onset delay, is discernible from the envelope features of amplitude-modulated stimuli and may be sufficient to evoke this effect. With sound pairs having only envelope cues, owls localized direct sounds preferentially and neurons in their auditory space-maps discharged more vigorously to them, but only if the sounds were amplitude modulated. Under conditions that yielded the precedence effect, acoustical features known to evoke neuronal discharges were more abundant in the envelopes of the direct sounds than of the echoes, suggesting that specialized neural mechanisms for echo suppression were unnecessary.
doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.07.014
PMCID: PMC2930190  PMID: 20797540
21.  From microseconds to seconds and minutes—time computation in insect hearing 
The computation of time in the auditory system of insects is of relevance at rather different time scales, covering a large range from microseconds to several minutes. At the one end of this range, only a few microseconds of interaural time differences are available for directional hearing, due to the small distance between the ears, usually considered too small to be processed reliably by simple nervous systems. Synapses of interneurons in the afferent auditory pathway are, however, very sensitive to a time difference of only 1–2 ms provided by the latency shift of afferent activity with changing sound direction. At a much larger time scale of several tens of milliseconds to seconds, time processing is important in the context species recognition, but also for those insects where males produce acoustic signals within choruses, and the temporal relationship between song elements strongly deviates from a random distribution. In these situations, some species exhibit a more or less strict phase relationship of song elements, based on phase response properties of their song oscillator. Here we review evidence on how this may influence mate choice decisions. In the same dimension of some tens of milliseconds we find species of katydids with a duetting communication scheme, where one sex only performs phonotaxis to the other sex if the acoustic response falls within a very short time window after its own call. Such time windows show some features unique to insects, and although its neuronal implementation is unknown so far, the similarity with time processing for target range detection in bat echolocation will be discussed. Finally, the time scale being processed must be extended into the range of many minutes, since some acoustic insects produce singing bouts lasting quite long, and female preferences may be based on total signaling time.
doi:10.3389/fphys.2014.00138
PMCID: PMC3990047  PMID: 24782783
interaural time difference; directional hearing; signal timing; chorus synchrony; mate choice; precedence effect; time window
22.  Independence of Echo-Threshold and Echo-Delay in the Barn Owl 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3598.
Despite their prevalence in nature, echoes are not perceived as events separate from the sounds arriving directly from an active source, until the echo's delay is long. We measured the head-saccades of barn owls and the responses of neurons in their auditory space-maps while presenting a long duration noise-burst and a simulated echo. Under this paradigm, there were two possible stimulus segments that could potentially signal the location of the echo. One was at the onset of the echo; the other, after the offset of the direct (leading) sound, when only the echo was present. By lengthening the echo's duration, independently of its delay, spikes and saccades were evoked by the source of the echo even at delays that normally evoked saccades to only the direct source. An echo's location thus appears to be signaled by the neural response evoked after the offset of the direct sound.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003598
PMCID: PMC2571984  PMID: 18974886
23.  Maps of interaural time difference in the chicken’s brainstem nucleus laminaris 
Biological cybernetics  2008;98(6):541-559.
Animals, including humans, use interaural time differences (ITDs) that arise from different sound path lengths to the two ears as a cue of horizontal sound source location. The nature of the neural code for ITD is still controversial. Current models differentiate between two population codes: either a map-like rate-place code of ITD along an array of neurons, consistent with a large body of data in the barn owl, or a population rate code, consistent with data from small mammals. Recently, it was proposed that these different codes reflect optimal coding strategies that depend on head size and sound frequency. The chicken makes an excellent test case of this proposal because its physical pre-requisites are similar to small mammals, yet it shares a more recent common ancestry with the owl. We show here that, like in the barn owl, the brainstem nucleus laminaris in mature chickens displayed the major features of a place code of ITD. ITD was topographically represented in the maximal responses of neurons along each isofrequency band, covering approximately the contralateral acoustic hemisphere. Furthermore, the represented ITD range appeared to change with frequency, consistent with a pressure gradient receiver mechanism in the avian middle ear. At very low frequencies, below400 Hz, maximal neural responses were symmetrically distributed around zero ITD and it remained unclear whether there was a topographic representation. These findings do not agree with the above predictions for optimal coding and thus revive the discussion as to what determines the neural coding strategies for ITDs.
doi:10.1007/s00422-008-0220-6
PMCID: PMC3170859  PMID: 18491165
Auditory; Hearing; Sound localization; Sensory
24.  Spiking Models for Level-Invariant Encoding 
Levels of ecological sounds vary over several orders of magnitude, but the firing rate and membrane potential of a neuron are much more limited in range. In binaural neurons of the barn owl, tuning to interaural delays is independent of level differences. Yet a monaural neuron with a fixed threshold should fire earlier in response to louder sounds, which would disrupt the tuning of these neurons. How could spike timing be independent of input level? Here I derive theoretical conditions for a spiking model to be insensitive to input level. The key property is a dynamic change in spike threshold. I then show how level invariance can be physiologically implemented, with specific ionic channel properties. It appears that these ingredients are indeed present in monaural neurons of the sound localization pathway of birds and mammals.
doi:10.3389/fncom.2011.00063
PMCID: PMC3254166  PMID: 22291634
spiking models; sound localization; spike timing; gain control; interaural time difference
25.  Auditory Spatial Acuity Approximates the Resolving Power of Space-Specific Neurons 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e675.
The relationship between neuronal acuity and behavioral performance was assessed in the barn owl (Tyto alba), a nocturnal raptor renowned for its ability to localize sounds and for the topographic representation of auditory space found in the midbrain. We measured discrimination of sound-source separation using a newly developed procedure involving the habituation and recovery of the pupillary dilation response. The smallest discriminable change of source location was found to be about two times finer in azimuth than in elevation. Recordings from neurons in its midbrain space map revealed that their spatial tuning, like the spatial discrimination behavior, was also better in azimuth than in elevation by a factor of about two. Because the PDR behavioral assay is mediated by the same circuitry whether discrimination is assessed in azimuth or in elevation, this difference in vertical and horizontal acuity is likely to reflect a true difference in sensory resolution, without additional confounding effects of differences in motor performance in the two dimensions. Our results, therefore, are consistent with the hypothesis that the acuity of the midbrain space map determines auditory spatial discrimination.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000675
PMCID: PMC1925148  PMID: 17668055

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