Maps of interaural time difference in the chicken's brainstem nucleus laminaris

Biol Cybern. 2008 Jun;98(6):541-59. doi: 10.1007/s00422-008-0220-6. Epub 2008 May 20.


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 prerequisites 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, below 400 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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Threshold / physiology
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Chickens / anatomy & histology*
  • Chickens / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Psychophysics
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*