The receptive fields of many auditory cortical neurons are multidimensional and are best represented by more than one stimulus feature. The number of these dimensions, their characteristics, and how they differ with stimulus context have been relatively unexplored. Standard methods that are often used to characterize multidimensional stimulus selectivity, such as spike-triggered covariance (STC) or maximally informative dimensions (MIDs), are either limited to Gaussian stimuli or are only able to recover a small number of stimulus features due to data limitations. An information theoretic extension of STC, the maximum noise entropy (MNE) model, can be used with non-Gaussian stimulus distributions to find an arbitrary number of stimulus dimensions. When we applied the MNE model to auditory cortical neurons, we often found more than two stimulus features that influenced neuronal firing. Excitatory and suppressive features coded different acoustic contexts: excitatory features encoded higher temporal and spectral modulations, while suppressive features had lower modulation frequency preferences. We found that the excitatory and suppressive features themselves were sensitive to stimulus context when we employed two stimuli that differed only in their short-term correlation structure: while the linear features were similar, the secondary features were strongly affected by stimulus statistics. These results show that multidimensional receptive field processing is influenced by feature type and stimulus context.
Keywords: cat; modulation; primary auditory cortex; spectrotemporal; stimulus statistics; strf.
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