A biologically realistic model of a uniform lateral inhibitory network (LIN) is shown capable of extracting from the complex spatio-temporal firing patterns of the cat's auditory nerve the formants and low-order harmonics of synthetic voiced speech stimuli. The model provides a realistic mechanism to utilize the temporal aspects of the firing and thus supports the hypothesis that the neural coding of complex sounds in terms of average rates can be supplemented by the information coded in the synchronous firing. At low levels of intensity the LIN can sharpen the average rate profiles. At moderate and high levels the LIN uses the cues available in the distribution of phases of the synchronous activity which exhibit rapid relative phase shifts at specific characteristic frequency (CF) locations (corresponding to the frequencies of the low-order harmonics in the stimulus). These temporal phase shifts manifest themselves at the input of the LIN as steep and localized spatial discontinuities in the instantaneous pattern of activity across the fiber array. The LIN enhances its output from these spatially steep input regions while suppressing its output from spatially smooth input regions (where little phase shifts occur). In this manner the LIN recreates from the response patterns a representation of the stimulus spectrum using the temporal cues as spatial markers of the stimulus components rather than as absolute measures of their frequencies. Similar results are obtained with various lateral inhibitory topologies, e.g., recurrent versus nonrecurrent, single versus double layer, and linear versus nonlinear.