Differences between spectro-temporal receptive fields derived from artificial and natural stimuli in the auditory cortex

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50539. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050539. Epub 2012 Nov 27.


Spectro-temporal properties of auditory cortex neurons have been extensively studied with artificial sounds but it is still unclear whether they help in understanding neuronal responses to communication sounds. Here, we directly compared spectro-temporal receptive fields (STRFs) obtained from the same neurons using both artificial stimuli (dynamic moving ripples, DMRs) and natural stimuli (conspecific vocalizations) that were matched in terms of spectral content, average power and modulation spectrum. On a population of auditory cortex neurons exhibiting reliable tuning curves when tested with pure tones, significant STRFs were obtained for 62% of the cells with vocalizations and 68% with DMR. However, for many cells with significant vocalization-derived STRFs (STRF(voc)) and DMR-derived STRFs (STRF(dmr)), the BF, latency, bandwidth and global STRFs shape differed more than what would be predicted by spiking responses simulated by a linear model based on a non-homogenous Poisson process. Moreover STRF(voc) predicted neural responses to vocalizations more accurately than STRF(dmr) predicted neural response to DMRs, despite similar spike-timing reliability for both sets of stimuli. Cortical bursts, which potentially introduce nonlinearities in evoked responses, did not explain the differences between STRF(voc) and STRF(dmr). Altogether, these results suggest that the nonlinearity of auditory cortical responses makes it difficult to predict responses to communication sounds from STRFs computed from artificial stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / metabolism

Grant support

This work was supported by grants from the National Research Agency (ANR program Neuro2006) and from the Fédération pour la Recherche sur le Cerveau (FRC) to JME. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.