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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.
PMCID: PMC3821004  PMID: 24265615
phase-locking; sound localization; auditory brainstem; periodic signals; oscillation; owl
2.  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.
PMCID: PMC2893945  PMID: 20613857
3.  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.
PMCID: PMC4143899  PMID: 25206329
sound localization; interaural time differences; avian brainstem; nucleus laminaris; ITD resolution
4.  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.
PMCID: PMC2822993  PMID: 20053889
Sound; Localization; Auditory; Brainstem; Axon; Conduction; Velocity
5.  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.
PMCID: PMC2948976  PMID: 16435285
avian; nucleus laminaris; nucleus magnocellularis; dendrite; coincidence detection; sound localization
6.  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).
PMCID: PMC3821005  PMID: 24265616
phase-locking; sound localization; auditory brainstem; periodic signals; oscillation; owl
7.  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.
PMCID: PMC4023016  PMID: 24847212
brainstem auditory nucleus; interaural difference cues; SON; tonic inhibition; phasic inhibition
8.  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.
PMCID: PMC2719282  PMID: 19396457
Barn owl; Interaural time difference; Cross-correlation; Coincidence detection; Cochlear delays; Sound localization; Nucleus laminaris; Stereausis
9.  Congenital and Prolonged Adult-Onset Deafness Cause Distinct Degradations in Neural ITD Coding with Bilateral Cochlear Implants 
Bilateral cochlear implant (CI) users perform poorly on tasks involving interaural time differences (ITD), which are critical for sound localization and speech reception in noise by normal-hearing listeners. ITD perception with bilateral CI is influenced by age at onset of deafness and duration of deafness. We previously showed that ITD coding in the auditory midbrain is degraded in congenitally deaf white cats (DWC) compared to acutely deafened cats (ADC) with normal auditory development (Hancock et al., J. Neurosci, 30:14068). To determine the relative importance of early onset of deafness and prolonged duration of deafness for abnormal ITD coding in DWC, we recorded from single units in the inferior colliculus of cats deafened as adults 6 months prior to experimentation (long-term deafened cats, LTDC) and compared neural ITD coding between the three deafness models. The incidence of ITD-sensitive neurons was similar in both groups with normal auditory development (LTDC and ADC), but significantly diminished in DWC. In contrast, both groups that experienced prolonged deafness (LTDC and DWC) had broad distributions of best ITDs around the midline, unlike the more focused distributions biased toward contralateral-leading ITDs present in both ADC and normal-hearing animals. The lack of contralateral bias in LTDC and DWC results in reduced sensitivity to changes in ITD within the natural range. The finding that early onset of deafness more severely degrades neural ITD coding than prolonged duration of deafness argues for the importance of fitting deaf children with sound processors that provide reliable ITD cues at an early age.
PMCID: PMC3642270  PMID: 23462803
binaural hearing; congenital deafness; inferior colliculus; cochlear implants; ITD
10.  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.
PMCID: PMC2693385  PMID: 19005056
sound localization; nucleus magnocellularis; potassium channel; phase-locking; spike-timing precision; coincidence detection
11.  Neural coding of ITD with bilateral cochlear implants: Effects of congenital deafness 
Human bilateral cochlear implant users do poorly on tasks involving interaural time differences (ITD), a cue which provides important benefits to the normal hearing, especially in challenging acoustic environments. Yet the precision of neural ITD coding in acutely-deafened, bilaterally-implanted cats is essentially normal (Smith and Delgutte, J. Neurosci. 27:6740–6750). One explanation for this discrepancy is that the extended periods of binaural deprivation typically experienced by cochlear implant users degrades neural ITD sensitivity, either by impeding normal maturation of the neural circuitry or by altering it later in life. To test this hypothesis, we recorded from single units in inferior colliculus (IC) of two groups of bilaterally-implanted, anesthetized cats that contrast maximally in binaural experience: acutely-deafened cats, which had normal binaural hearing until experimentation, and congenitally deaf white cats, which received no auditory inputs until the experiment. Rate responses of only half as many neurons showed significant ITD sensitivity to low-rate pulse trains in congenitally deaf cats compared to acutely deafened cats. For neurons that were ITD sensitive, ITD tuning was broader and best ITDs were more variable in congenitally deaf cats, leading to poorer ITD coding within the naturally-occurring range. A signal detection model constrained by the observed physiology supports the idea that the degraded neural ITD coding resulting from deprivation of binaural experience contributes to poor ITD discrimination by human implantees.
PMCID: PMC3025489  PMID: 20962228
binaural hearing; electric stimulation; congenital deafness; cochlear implant; inferior colliculus; ITD
12.  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.
PMCID: PMC3123442  PMID: 21567250
coincidence detection; interaural time difference; discrimination; binaural; sound localization
13.  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.
PMCID: PMC3123442  PMID: 21567250
coincidence detection; interaural time difference; discrimination; binaural; sound localization
14.  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.
PMCID: PMC2637928  PMID: 18685035
barn owl; interaural time difference; cross-correlation; coincidence detection; sound localization; nucleus laminaris
15.  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.
PMCID: PMC3157295  PMID: 21414923
16.  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.
PMCID: PMC2532515  PMID: 17314241
17.  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.
PMCID: PMC2532518  PMID: 17615132
18.  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.
PMCID: PMC2041852  PMID: 17581961
binaural hearing; electric stimulation; neural prosthesis; cochlear implant; inferior colliculus; ITD
19.  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.
PMCID: PMC3202365  PMID: 12083726
interaural; binaural; owl; ITD
20.  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.
PMCID: PMC3170859  PMID: 18491165
Auditory; Hearing; Sound localization; Sensory
21.  Coincidence detection in the medial superior olive: mechanistic implications of an analysis of input spiking patterns 
Coincidence detection by binaural neurons in the medial superior olive underlies sensitivity to interaural time difference (ITD) and interaural correlation (ρ). It is unclear whether this process is akin to a counting of individual coinciding spikes, or rather to a correlation of membrane potential waveforms resulting from converging inputs from each side. We analyzed spike trains of axons of the cat trapezoid body (TB) and auditory nerve (AN) in a binaural coincidence scheme. ITD was studied by delaying “ipsi-” vs. “contralateral” inputs; ρ was studied by using responses to different noises. We varied the number of inputs; the monaural and binaural threshold and the coincidence window duration. We examined physiological plausibility of output “spike trains” by comparing their rate and tuning to ITD and ρ to those of binaural cells. We found that multiple inputs are required to obtain a plausible output spike rate. In contrast to previous suggestions, monaural threshold almost invariably needed to exceed binaural threshold. Elevation of the binaural threshold to values larger than 2 spikes caused a drastic decrease in rate for a short coincidence window. Longer coincidence windows allowed a lower number of inputs and higher binaural thresholds, but decreased the depth of modulation. Compared to AN fibers, TB fibers allowed higher output spike rates for a low number of inputs, but also generated more monaural coincidences. We conclude that, within the parameter space explored, the temporal patterns of monaural fibers require convergence of multiple inputs to achieve physiological binaural spike rates; that monaural coincidences have to be suppressed relative to binaural ones; and that the neuron has to be sensitive to single binaural coincidences of spikes, for a number of excitatory inputs per side of 10 or less. These findings suggest that the fundamental operation in the mammalian binaural circuit is coincidence counting of single binaural input spikes.
PMCID: PMC4013490  PMID: 24822037
medial superior olive; auditory nerve; input convergence; coincidence window; interaural time difference; interaural correlation; temporal coding; coincidence detection
22.  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.
PMCID: PMC4033047  PMID: 24904297
GABAergic inhibition; voltage-gated low-threshold potassium current; IPSC; IPSP; tonotopy; whole-cell patch; interaural time difference
23.  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.
PMCID: PMC2041891  PMID: 15306644
auditory; binaural; hearing; inferior colliculus; localization; psychophysics
24.  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
25.  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.
PMCID: PMC3518488  PMID: 23115186

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