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1.  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
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.  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
4.  Adaptation of spike timing precision controls the sensitivity to interaural time difference in the avian auditory brainstem 
While adaptation is widely thought to facilitate neural coding, the form of adaptation should depend on how the signals are encoded. Monaural neurons early in the interaural time difference (ITD) pathway encode the phase of sound input using spike timing rather than firing rate. Such neurons in chicken nucleus magnocellularis (NM) adapt to ongoing stimuli by increasing firing rate and decreasing spike timing precision. We measured NM neuron responses while adapting them to simulated physiological input, and used these responses to construct inputs to binaural coincidence detector neurons in nucleus laminaris (NL). Adaptation of spike timing in NM reduced ITD sensitivity in NL, demonstrating the dominant role of timing in the short-term plasticity as well as the immediate response of this sound localization circuit.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1865-12.2012
PMCID: PMC3518488  PMID: 23115186
5.  Cross-Correlation in the Auditory Coincidence Detectors of Owls 
Interaural time difference (ITD) plays a central role in many auditory functions, most importantly in sound localization. The classic model for how ITD is computed was put forth by Jeffress (1948). One of the predictions of the Jeffress model is that the neurons that compute ITD should behave as cross-correlators. Whereas cross-correlation-like properties of the ITD-computing neurons have been reported, attempts to show that the shape of the ITD response function is determined by the spectral tuning of the neuron, a core prediction of cross-correlation, have been unsuccessful. Using reverse correlation analysis, we demonstrate in the barn owl that the relationship between the spectral tuning and the ITD response of the ITD-computing neurons is that predicted by cross-correlation. Moreover, we show that a model of coincidence detector responses derived from responses to binaurally uncorrelated noise is consistent with binaural interaction based on cross-correlation. These results are thus consistent with one of the key tenets of the Jeffress model. Our work sets forth both the methodology to answer whether cross-correlation describes coincidence detector responses and a demonstration that in the barn owl, the result is that expected by theory.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1969-08.2008
PMCID: PMC2637928  PMID: 18685035
barn owl; interaural time difference; cross-correlation; coincidence detection; sound localization; nucleus laminaris
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  Adaptation of Firing Rate and Spike Timing Precision in the Avian Cochlear Nucleus 
Adaptation is commonly defined as a decrease in response to a constant stimulus. In the auditory system such adaptation is seen at multiple levels. However, the first-order central neurons of the interaural time difference (ITD) detection circuit encode information in the timing of spikes rather than the overall firing rate. We investigated adaptation during in vitro whole-cell recordings from chick nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons. Injection of noisy, depolarizing current caused an increase in firing rate and a decrease in spike time precision that developed over approximately 20 seconds. This adaptation depends on sustained depolarization, is independent of firing, and is eliminated by α-Dendrotoxin (0.1 μM) implicating slow inactivation of low-threshold voltage-activated K+ channels as its mechanism. This process may alter both firing rate and spike timing precision of phase-locked inputs to coincidence detector neurons in nucleus laminaris and thereby adjust the precision of sound localization.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3827-08.2008
PMCID: PMC2693385  PMID: 19005056
sound localization; nucleus magnocellularis; potassium channel; phase-locking; spike-timing precision; coincidence detection
14.  Optical Imaging of Interaural Time Difference Representation in Rat Auditory Cortex 
We used in vivo voltage-sensitive dye optical imaging to examine the cortical representation of interaural time difference (ITD), which is believed to be involved in sound source localization. We found that acoustic stimuli with dissimilar ITD activate various localized domains in the auditory cortex. The main loci of the activation pattern shift up to 1 mm during the first 40 ms of the response period. We suppose that some of the neurons in each pool are sensitive to the definite ITD and involved in the transduction of information about sound source localization, based on the ITD. This assumption gives a reasonable fit to the Jeffress model in which the neural network calculates the ITD to define the direction of the sound source. Such calculation forms the basis for the cortex's ability to detect the azimuth of the sound source.
doi:10.3389/neuro.16.002.2009
PMCID: PMC2654020  PMID: 19277218
auditory cortex; interaural time difference; optical imaging; voltage-sensitive dye
15.  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
16.  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
17.  Axonal branching patterns as sources of delay in the mammalian auditory brainstem: a reexamination 
In models of temporal processing, time delays incurred by axonal propagation of action potentials play a prominent role. A preeminent model of temporal processing in audition is the binaural model of Jeffress (1948), which has dominated theories regarding our acute sensitivity to interaural time differences (ITDs). In Jeffress’ model a binaural cell is maximally active when the ITD is compensated by an internal delay, which brings the inputs from left and right ears in coincidence, and which would arise from axonal branching patterns of monaural input fibers. By arranging these patterns in systematic and opposite ways for the ipsi- and contralateral inputs, a range of length differences, and thereby of internal delays, is created so that ITD is transformed into a spatial activation pattern along the binaural nucleus. We reanalyze single, labeled and physiologically characterized, axons of spherical bushy cells of the cat anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) which project to binaural coincidence detectors in the medial superior olive (MSO). The reconstructions largely confirm the observations of two previous reports, but several features are observed which are inconsistent with Jeffress’ model. We found that ipsilateral projections can also form a caudally-directed delay line pattern, which would counteract delays incurred by caudally-directed contralateral projections. Comparisons of estimated axonal delays with binaural physiological data indicate that the suggestive anatomical patterns cannot account for the frequency-dependent distribution of best delays in the cat. Surprisingly, the tonotopic distribution of the afferents endings indicate that low CFs are under- rather than overrepresented in the MSO.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5175-10.2011
PMCID: PMC3157295  PMID: 21414923
18.  Sound localization: Jeffress and beyond 
Current opinion in neurobiology  2011;21(5):745-751.
Many animals use the interaural time differences (ITDs) to locate the source of low frequency sounds. The place coding theory proposed by Jeffress has long been a dominant model to account for the neural mechanisms of ITD detection. Recent research, however, suggests a wider range of strategies for ITD coding in the binaural auditory brainstem. We discuss how ITD is coded in avian, mammalian, and reptilian nervous systems, and review underlying synaptic and cellular properties that enable precise temporal computation. The latest advances in recording and analysis techniques provide powerful tools for both overcoming and utilizing the large field potentials in these nuclei.
doi:10.1016/j.conb.2011.05.008
PMCID: PMC3192259  PMID: 21646012
19.  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
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.  Astrocyte-Secreted Factors Modulate the Developmental Distribution of Inhibitory Synapses in Nucleus Laminaris of the Avian Auditory Brainstem 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2012;520(6):1262-1277.
Nucleus laminaris (NL) neurons in the avian auditory brainstem are coincidence detectors necessary for the computation of interaural time differences used in sound localization. In addition to their excitatory inputs from nucleus magnocellularis, NL neurons receive inhibitory inputs from the superior olivary nucleus (SON) that greatly improve coincidence detection in mature animals. The mechanisms that establish mature distributions of inhibitory inputs to NL are not known. We used the vesicular GABA transporter (VGAT) as a marker for inhibitory presynaptic terminals to study the development of inhibitory inputs to NL between embryonic day 9 (E9) and E17. VGAT immunofluorescent puncta were first seen sparsely in NL at E9. The density of VGAT puncta increased with development, first within the ventral NL neuropil region and subsequently throughout both the ventral and dorsal dendritic neuropil, with significantly fewer terminals in the cell body region. A large increase in density occurred between E13–15 and E16–17, at a developmental stage when astrocytes that express glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) become mature. We cultured E13 brainstem slices together with astrocyte-conditioned medium (ACM) obtained from E16 brainstems and found that ACM, but not control medium, increased the density of VGAT puncta. This increase was similar to that observed during normal development. Astrocyte-secreted factors interact with the terminal ends of SON axons to increase the number of GABAergic terminals. These data suggest that factors secreted from GFAP-positive astrocytes promote maturation of inhibitory pathways in the auditory brainstem.
doi:10.1002/cne.22786
PMCID: PMC3926803  PMID: 22020566
astrocytes; inhibitory synapses; auditory brainstem; nucleus laminaris; synaptogenesis; superior olivary nucleus
22.  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
23.  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
24.  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
25.  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

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