A comparison of the spectro-temporal sensitivity of auditory neurons to tonal and natural stimuli

Biol Cybern. 1981;42(2):145-56. doi: 10.1007/BF00336732.


The spectro-temporal sensitivity of auditory neurons has been investigated experimentally by averaging the spectrograms of stimuli preceding the occurrence of action potentials or neural events ( the APES : Aertsen et al., 1980, 1981). The properties of the stimulus ensemble are contained in this measure of neural selectivity. The spectro-temporal receptive field (STRF) has been proposed as a theoretical concept which should give a stimulus-invariant representation of the second order characteristics of the neuron's system function (Aertsen and Johannesma, 1981). The present paper investigates the relation between the experimental and the theoretical description of the neuron's spectro-temporal sensitivity for sound. The aim is to derive a formally based stimulus-normalization procedure for the results of the experimental averaging procedure. Under particular assumptions, regarding both the neuron and the stimulus ensemble, an integral equation connecting the APES and the STRF is derived. This integral expression enables to calculate the APES from the STRF by taking into account the stimulus spectral composition and the characteristics of the spectrogram analysis. The inverse relation, i.e. starting from the experimental results and by application of a formal normalization procedure arriving at the theoretical STRF, is effectively hindered by the nature of the spectrogram analysis. An approximative "normalization" procedure, based on intuitive manipulation of the integral equation, has been applied to a number of single unit recordings from the grassfrog's auditory midbrain area to tonal and natural stimulus ensembles. The results indicate tha spectrogram analysis, while being a useful real-time tool in investigating the spectro-temporal transfer properties of auditory neurons, shows fundamental shortcomings for a theoretical treatment of the questions of interest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rana temporaria
  • Time Factors
  • Vestibulocochlear Nerve / physiology*