The representation of amplitude modulations in the mammalian auditory midbrain

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Sep;100(3):1602-9. doi: 10.1152/jn.90374.2008. Epub 2008 Jul 9.


Temporal modulations in stimulus amplitude are essential for recognizing and categorizing behaviorally relevant acoustic signals such as speech. Despite this behavioral importance, it remains unclear how amplitude modulations (AMs) are represented in the responses of neurons at higher levels of the auditory system. Studies using stimuli with sinusoidal amplitude modulations (SAMs) have shown that the responses of many neurons are strongly tuned to modulation frequency, leading to the hypothesis that AMs are represented by their periodicity in the auditory midbrain. However, AMs in general are defined not only by their modulation frequency, but also by a number of other parameters (duration, duty cycle, etc.), which covary with modulation frequency in SAM stimuli. Thus the relationship between modulation frequency and neural responses as characterized with SAM stimuli alone is ambiguous. In this study, we characterize the representation of AMs in the gerbil inferior colliculus by analyzing neural responses to a series of pulse trains in which duration and interpulse interval are systematically varied to quantify the importance of duration, interpulse interval, duty cycle, and modulation frequency independently. We find that, although modulation frequency is indeed an important parameter for some neurons, the responses of many neurons are also strongly influenced by other AM parameters, typically duration and duty cycle. These results suggest that AMs are represented in the auditory midbrain not only by their periodicity, but by a complex combination of several important parameters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation*
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Gerbillinae
  • Inferior Colliculi / cytology*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic