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1.  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
2.  Mechanisms for Adjusting Interaural Time Differences to Achieve Binaural Coincidence Detection 
Understanding binaural perception requires detailed analyses of the neural circuitry responsible for the computation of interaural time differences (ITDs). In the avian brainstem, this circuit consists of internal axonal delay lines innervating an array of coincidence detector neurons that encode external ITDs. Nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons project to the dorsal dendritic field of the ipsilateral nucleus laminaris (NL) and to the ventral field of the contralateral NL. Contralateral-projecting axons form a delay line system along a band of NL neurons. Binaural acoustic signals in the form of phase-locked action potentials from NM cells arrive at NL and establish a topographic map of sound source location along the azimuth. These pathways are assumed to represent a circuit similar to the Jeffress model of sound localization, establishing a place code along an isofrequency contour of NL. Three-dimensional measurements of axon lengths reveal major discrepancies with the current model; the temporal offset based on conduction length alone makes encoding of physiological ITDs impossible. However, axon diameter and distances between Nodes of Ranvier also influence signal propagation times along an axon. Our measurements of these parameters reveal that diameter and internode distance can compensate for the temporal offset inferred from axon lengths alone. Together with other recent studies these unexpected results should inspire new thinking on the cellular biology, evolution and plasticity of the circuitry underlying low frequency sound localization in both birds and mammals.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3464-09.2010
PMCID: PMC2822993  PMID: 20053889
Sound; Localization; Auditory; Brainstem; Axon; Conduction; Velocity
3.  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
4.  Bilateral matching of frequency tuning in neural cross-correlators of the owl 
Biological cybernetics  2009;100(6):521-531.
Sound localization requires comparison between the inputs to the left and right ears. One important aspect of this comparison is the differences in arrival time to each side, also called interaural time difference (ITD).A prevalent model of ITD detection, consisting of delay lines and coincidence-detector neurons, was proposed by Jeffress (J Comp Physiol Psychol 41:35–39, 1948). As an extension of the Jeffress model, the process of detecting and encoding ITD has been compared to an effective cross-correlation between the input signals to the two ears. Because the cochlea performs a spectrotemporal decomposition of the input signal, this cross-correlation takes place over narrow frequency bands. Since the cochlear tonotopy is arranged in series, sounds of different frequencies will trigger neural activity with different temporal delays. Thus, the matching of the frequency tuning of the left and right inputs to the cross-correlator units becomes a ‘timing’ issue. These properties of auditory transduction gave theoretical support to an alternative model of ITD-detection based on a bilateral mismatch in frequency tuning, called the ‘stereausis’ model. Here we first review the current literature on the owl’s nucleus laminaris, the equivalent to the medial superior olive of mammals, which is the site where ITD is detected. Subsequently, we use reverse correlation analysis and stimulation with uncorrelated sounds to extract the effective monaural inputs to the cross-correlator neurons. We show that when the left and right inputs to the cross-correlators are defined in this manner, the computation performed by coincidence-detector neurons satisfies conditions of cross-correlation theory. We also show that the spectra of left and right inputs are matched, which is consistent with predictions made by the classic model put forth by Jeffress.
doi:10.1007/s00422-009-0312-y
PMCID: PMC2719282  PMID: 19396457
Barn owl; Interaural time difference; Cross-correlation; Coincidence detection; Cochlear delays; Sound localization; Nucleus laminaris; Stereausis
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  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
14.  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
15.  Spatial cue reliability drives frequency tuning in the barn Owl's midbrain 
eLife  null;3:e04854.
The robust representation of the environment from unreliable sensory cues is vital for the efficient function of the brain. However, how the neural processing captures the most reliable cues is unknown. The interaural time difference (ITD) is the primary cue to localize sound in horizontal space. ITD is encoded in the firing rate of neurons that detect interaural phase difference (IPD). Due to the filtering effect of the head, IPD for a given location varies depending on the environmental context. We found that, in barn owls, at each location there is a frequency range where the head filtering yields the most reliable IPDs across contexts. Remarkably, the frequency tuning of space-specific neurons in the owl's midbrain varies with their preferred sound location, matching the range that carries the most reliable IPD. Thus, frequency tuning in the owl's space-specific neurons reflects a higher-order feature of the code that captures cue reliability.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.04854.001
eLife digest
The ability to locate where a sound is coming from is an essential survival skill for both prey and predator species. A major cue used by the brain to infer the sound's location is the difference in arrival time of the sound at the left and right ears; for example, a sound coming from the left side will reach the left ear before the right ear.
We are exposed to a variety of sounds of different intensities (loud or soft), and pitch (high or low) emitted from many different directions. The cacophony that surrounds us makes it a challenge to detect where individual sounds come from because other sounds from different directions corrupt the signals coming from the target. This background noise can profoundly affect the reliability of the sensory cue.
When sounds reach the ears, the head and external ears transform the sound in a direction-dependent manner so that some pitches are amplified more than other pitches for specific directions. However, the consequence of this filtering is that the directional information about a sound may be altered. For example, if two sounds of a similar pitch but from different locations are heard at the same time, they will add up at the ears and change the directional information. The group of neurons that respond to that range of pitches will be activated by both sounds so they cannot provide reliable information about the direction of the individual sounds. The degree to which the directional information is altered depends on the pitch that is being detected by the neurons; therefore detection of a different pitch within the sound may be a more reliable cue.
Cazettes et al. used the known filtering properties of the owl's head to predict the reliability of the timing cue for sounds coming from different directions in a noisy environment. This analysis showed that for each direction, there was a range of pitches that carried the most reliable cues. The study then focused on whether the neurons that represent hearing space in the owl's brain were sensitive to this range.
The experiments found a remarkable correlation between the pitch preferred by each neuron and the range that carried the most reliable cue for each direction. This finding challenges the common view of sensory neurons as simple processors by showing that they are also selective to high-order properties relating to the reliability of the cue.
Besides selecting the cues that are likely to be the most reliable, the brain must capture changes in the reliability of the sensory cues. In addition, this reliability must be incorporated into the information carried by neurons and used when deciding how best to act in uncertain situations. Future research will be required to unravel how the brain does this.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.04854.002
doi:10.7554/eLife.04854
PMCID: PMC4291741  PMID: 25531067
barn owl; neural coding; cue reliability; sound localization; other
16.  Neuronal specializations for the processing of interaural difference cues in the chick 
Sound information is encoded as a series of spikes of the auditory nerve fibers (ANFs), and then transmitted to the brainstem auditory nuclei. Features such as timing and level are extracted from ANFs activity and further processed as the interaural time difference (ITD) and the interaural level difference (ILD), respectively. These two interaural difference cues are used for sound source localization by behaving animals. Both cues depend on the head size of animals and are extremely small, requiring specialized neural properties in order to process these cues with precision. Moreover, the sound level and timing cues are not processed independently from one another. Neurons in the nucleus angularis (NA) are specialized for coding sound level information in birds and the ILD is processed in the posterior part of the dorsal lateral lemniscus nucleus (LLDp). Processing of ILD is affected by the phase difference of binaural sound. Temporal features of sound are encoded in the pathway starting in nucleus magnocellularis (NM), and ITD is processed in the nucleus laminaris (NL). In this pathway a variety of specializations are found in synapse morphology, neuronal excitability, distribution of ion channels and receptors along the tonotopic axis, which reduces spike timing fluctuation in the ANFs-NM synapse, and imparts precise and stable ITD processing to the NL. Moreover, the contrast of ITD processing in NL is enhanced over a wide range of sound level through the activity of GABAergic inhibitory systems from both the superior olivary nucleus (SON) and local inhibitory neurons that follow monosynaptic to NM activity.
doi:10.3389/fncir.2014.00047
PMCID: PMC4023016  PMID: 24847212
brainstem auditory nucleus; interaural difference cues; SON; tonic inhibition; phasic inhibition
17.  Topography and Morphology of the Inhibitory Projection From Superior Olivary Nucleus to Nucleus Laminaris in Chickens (Gallus gallus) 
The avian nucleus laminaris (NL) is involved in computation of interaural time differences (ITDs) that encode the azimuthal position of a sound source. Neurons in NL are bipolar, with dorsal and ventral dendritic arbors receiving input from separate ears. NL neurons act as coincidence detectors that respond maximally when input from each ear arrives at the two dendritic arbors simultaneously. Computational and physiological studies demonstrated that the sensitivity of NL neurons to coincident inputs is modulated by an inhibitory feedback circuit via the superior olivary nucleus (SON). To understand the mechanism of this modulation, the topography of the projection from SON to NL was mapped, and the morphology of the axon terminals of SON neurons in NL was examined in chickens (Gallus gallus). In vivo injection of AlexaFluor 568 dextran amine into SON demonstrated a coarse topographic projection from SON to NL. Retrogradely labeled neurons in NL were located within the zone of anterogradely labeled terminals, suggesting a reciprocal projection from SON to NL. In vivo extracellular physiological recording further demonstrated that this topography is consistent with tonotopic maps in SON and NL. In addition, three-dimensional reconstruction of single SON axon branches within NL revealed that individual SON neurons innervate a large area of NL and terminate on both dorsal and ventral dendritic arbors of NL neurons. The organization of the projection from SON to NL supports its proposed functions of controlling the overall activity level of NL and enhancing the specificity of frequency mapping and ITD detection.
doi:10.1002/cne.22523
PMCID: PMC3299086  PMID: 21165979
auditory brainstem; axonal projection; γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA); interaural time difference (ITD); tonotopic organization
18.  A Physiologically Based Model of Interaural Time Difference Discrimination 
Interaural time difference (ITD) is a cue to the location of sounds containing low frequencies and is represented in the inferior colliculus (IC) by cells that respond maximally at a particular best delay (BD). Previous studies have demonstrated that single ITD-sensitive cells contain sufficient information in their discharge patterns to account for ITD acuity on the midline (ITD = 0). If ITD discrimination were based on the activity of the most sensitive cell available (“lower envelope hypothesis”), then ITD acuity should be relatively constant as a function of ITD. In response to broadband noise, however, the ITD acuity of human listeners degrades as ITD increases. To account for these results, we hypothesize that pooling of information across neurons is an essential component of ITD discrimination. This report describes a neural pooling model of ITD discrimination based on the response properties of ITD-sensitive cells in the IC of anesthetized cats.
Rate versus ITD curves were fit with a cross-correlation model of ITD sensitivity, and the parameters were used to constrain a population model of ITD discrimination. The model accurately predicts ITD acuity as a function of ITD for broadband noise stimuli when responses are pooled across best frequency (BF). Furthermore, ITD tuning based solely on a system of internal delays is not sufficient to predict ITD acuity in response to 500 Hz tones, suggesting that acuity is likely refined by additional mechanisms. The physiological data confirms evidence from the guinea pig that BD varies systematically with BF, generalizing the observation across species.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0762-04.2004
PMCID: PMC2041891  PMID: 15306644
auditory; binaural; hearing; inferior colliculus; localization; psychophysics
19.  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
20.  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
21.  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
22.  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
23.  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
24.  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
25.  Interplay between low threshold voltage-gated K+ channels and synaptic inhibition in neurons of the chicken nucleus laminaris along its frequency axis 
Central auditory neurons that localize sound in horizontal space have specialized intrinsic and synaptic cellular mechanisms to tightly control the threshold and timing for action potential generation. However, the critical interplay between intrinsic voltage-gated conductances and extrinsic synaptic conductances in determining neuronal output are not well understood. In chicken, neurons in the nucleus laminaris (NL) encode sound location using interaural time difference (ITD) as a cue. Along the tonotopic axis of NL, there exist robust differences among low, middle, and high frequency (LF, MF, and HF, respectively) neurons in a variety of neuronal properties such as low threshold voltage-gated K+ (LTK) channels and depolarizing inhibition. This establishes NL as an ideal model to examine the interactions between LTK currents and synaptic inhibition across the tonotopic axis. Using whole-cell patch clamp recordings prepared from chicken embryos (E17–E18), we found that LTK currents were larger in MF and HF neurons than in LF neurons. Kinetic analysis revealed that LTK currents in MF neurons activated at lower voltages than in LF and HF neurons, whereas the inactivation of the currents was similar across the tonotopic axis. Surprisingly, blockade of LTK currents using dendrotoxin-I (DTX) tended to broaden the duration and increase the amplitude of the depolarizing inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) in NL neurons without dependence on coding frequency regions. Analyses of the effects of DTX on inhibitory postsynaptic currents led us to interpret this unexpected observation as a result of primarily postsynaptic effects of LTK currents on MF and HF neurons, and combined presynaptic and postsynaptic effects in LF neurons. Furthermore, DTX transferred subthreshold IPSPs to spikes. Taken together, the results suggest a critical role for LTK currents in regulating inhibitory synaptic strength in ITD-coding neurons at various frequencies.
doi:10.3389/fncir.2014.00051
PMCID: PMC4033047  PMID: 24904297
GABAergic inhibition; voltage-gated low-threshold potassium current; IPSC; IPSP; tonotopy; whole-cell patch; interaural time difference

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