Core auditory cortex (AC) neurons encode slow fluctuations of acoustic stimuli with temporally patterned activity. However, whether temporal encoding is necessary to explain auditory perceptual skills remains uncertain. Here, we recorded from gerbil AC neurons while they discriminated between a 4-Hz amplitude modulation (AM) broadband noise and AM rates >4 Hz. We found a proportion of neurons possessed neural thresholds based on spike pattern or spike count that were better than the recorded session's behavioral threshold, suggesting that spike count could provide sufficient information for this perceptual task. A population decoder that relied on temporal information outperformed a decoder that relied on spike count alone, but the spike count decoder still remained sufficient to explain average behavioral performance. This leaves open the possibility that more demanding perceptual judgments require temporal information. Thus, we asked whether accurate classification of different AM rates between 4 and 12 Hz required the information contained in AC temporal discharge patterns. Indeed, accurate classification of these AM stimuli depended on the inclusion of temporal information rather than spike count alone. Overall, our results compare two different representations of time-varying acoustic features that can be accessed by downstream circuits required for perceptual judgments.
Keywords: amplitude modulation; auditory cortex; auditory discrimination; rate code; temporal code.
Published by Oxford University Press 2021.