Enhancement of signal-to-noise ratio and phase locking for small inputs by a low-threshold outward current in auditory neurons

J Neurosci. 2002 Dec 15;22(24):11019-25. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.22-24-11019.2002.


Neurons possess multiple voltage-dependent conductances specific for their function. To investigate how low-threshold outward currents improve the detection of small signals in a noisy background, we recorded from gerbil medial superior olivary (MSO) neurons in vitro. MSO neurons responded phasically, with a single spike to a step current injection. When bathed in dendrotoxin (DTX), most cells switched to tonic firing, suggesting that low-threshold potassium currents (I(KLT)) participated in shaping these phasic responses. Neurons were stimulated with a computer-generated steady barrage of random inputs, mimicking weak synaptic conductance transients (the "noise"), together with a larger but still subthreshold postsynaptic conductance, EPSG (the "signal"). DTX reduced the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), defined as the ratio of probability to fire in response to the EPSG and the probability to fire spontaneously in response to noise. The reduction was mainly attributable to the increase of spontaneous firing in DTX. The spike-triggered reverse correlation indicated that, for spike generation, the neuron with I(KLT) required faster inward current transients. This narrow temporal integration window contributed to superior phase locking of firing to periodic stimuli before application of DTX. A computer model including Hodgkin-Huxley type conductances for spike generation and for I(KLT) (Rathouz and Trussell, 1998) showed similar response statistics. The dynamic low-threshold outward current increased SNR and the temporal precision of integration of weak subthreshold signals in auditory neurons by suppressing false positives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways
  • Auditory Threshold*
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Culture Techniques
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • Gerbillinae
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Olivary Nucleus / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Periodicity
  • Potassium Channels / physiology


  • Potassium Channels