The neurophysiology of ectothermic animals, such as insects, is affected by environmental temperature, as their body temperature fluctuates with ambient conditions. Changes in temperature alter properties of neurons and, consequently, have an impact on the processing of information. Nevertheless, nervous system function is often maintained over a broad temperature range, exhibiting a surprising robustness to variations in temperature. A special problem arises for acoustically communicating insects, as in these animals mate recognition and mate localization typically rely on the decoding of fast amplitude modulations in calling and courtship songs. In the auditory periphery, however, temporal resolution is constrained by intrinsic neuronal noise. Such noise predominantly arises from the stochasticity of ion channel gating and potentially impairs the processing of sensory signals. On the basis of intracellular recordings of locust auditory neurons, we show that intrinsic neuronal variability on the level of spikes is reduced with increasing temperature. We use a detailed mathematical model including stochastic ion channel gating to shed light on the underlying biophysical mechanisms in auditory receptor neurons: because of a redistribution of channel-induced current noise toward higher frequencies and specifics of the temperature dependence of the membrane impedance, membrane potential noise is indeed reduced at higher temperatures. This finding holds under generic conditions and physiologically plausible assumptions on the temperature dependence of the channels' kinetics and peak conductances. We demonstrate that the identified mechanism also can explain the experimentally observed reduction of spike timing variability at higher temperatures.
Keywords: auditory neuron; grasshopper; intrinsic variability; temperature.
Copyright © 2015 the American Physiological Society.