Coding interaural time differences at low best frequencies in the barn owl

J Physiol Paris. Jan-Jun 2004;98(1-3):99-112. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2004.03.003.


In birds and mammals, precisely timed spikes encode the timing of acoustic stimuli, and interaural acoustic disparities propagate to binaural processing centers. The Jeffress model proposes that these projections act as delay lines to innervate an array of coincidence detectors, every element of which has a different relative delay between its ipsilateral and contralateral excitatory inputs. Thus, interaural time difference (ITD) is encoded into the position of the coincidence detector whose delay lines best cancel out the acoustic ITD. Neurons of the avian nucleus laminaris and mammalian MSO phase-lock to both monaural and binaural stimuli but respond maximally when phase-locked spikes from each side arrive simultaneously, i.e. when the difference in the conduction delays compensates for the ITD. McAlpine et al. [Nat. Neurosci. 4 (2001) 396] identified an apparent difference between avian and mammalian ITD coding. In the barn owl, the maximum firing rate appears to encode ITD. This may not be the case for the guinea pig, where the steepest region of the function relating discharge rate to interaural time delay (ITD) is close to midline for all neurons, irrespective of best frequency (BF). These data suggest that low BF ITD sensitivity in the guinea pig is mediated by detection of a change in slope of the ITD function, and not by maximum rate. We review coding of low best frequency ITDs in barn owls and mammals and discuss whether there may be differences in the code used to signal ITD in mammals and birds.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Strigiformes / physiology*
  • Time Factors