Auditory cortical neurons are sensitive to static and continuously changing interaural phase cues

J Neurophysiol. 1990 Oct;64(4):1247-60. doi: 10.1152/jn.1990.64.4.1247.


1. The interaural-phase-difference (IPD) sensitivity of single neurons in the primary auditory (AI) cortex of the anesthetized cat was studied at stimulus frequencies ranging from 120 to 2,500 Hz. Best frequencies of the 43 AI cells sensitive to IPD ranged from 190 to 2,400 Hz. 2. A static IPD was produced when a pair of low-frequency tone bursts, differing from one another only in starting phase, were presented dichotically. The resulting IPD-sensitivity curves, which plot the number of discharges evoked by the binaural signal as a function of IPD, were deeply modulated circular functions. IPD functions were analyzed for their mean vector length (r) and mean interaural phase (phi). Phase sensitivity was relatively independent of best frequency (BF) but highly dependent on stimulus frequency. Regardless of BF or stimulus frequency within the excitatory response area the majority of cells fired maximally when the ipsilateral tone lagged the contralateral signal and fired least when this interaural-phase relationship was reversed. 3. Sensitivity to continuously changing IPD was studied by delivering to the two ears 3-s tones that differed slightly in frequency, resulting in a binaural beat. Approximately 26% of the cells that showed a sensitivity to static changes in IPD also showed a sensitivity to dynamically changing IPD created by this binaural tonal combination. The discharges were highly periodic and tightly synchronized to a particular phase of the binaural beat cycle. High synchrony can be attributed to the fact that cortical neurons typically respond to an excitatory stimulus with but a single spike that is often precisely timed to stimulus onset. A period histogram, binned on the binaural beat frequency (fb), produced an equivalent IPD-sensitivity function for dynamically changing interaural phase. For neurons sensitive to both static and continuously changing interaural phase there was good correspondence between their static (phi s) and dynamic (phi d) mean interaural phases. 4. All cells responding to a dynamically changing stimulus exhibited a linear relationship between mean interaural phase and beat frequency. Most cells responded equally well to binaural beats regardless of the initial direction of phase change. For a fixed duration stimulus, and at relatively low fb, the number of spikes evoked increased with increasing fb, reflecting the increasing number of effective stimulus cycles. At higher fb, AI neurons were unable to follow the rate at which the most effective phase repeated itself during the 3 s of stimulation.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / cytology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Cats
  • Cues*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology
  • Medulla Oblongata / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*