Early monaural occlusion alters the neural map of interaural level differences in the inferior colliculus of the barn owl

Brain Res. 1993 Aug 13;619(1-2):29-38. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(93)91593-h.


Monaural occlusion during early life causes adaptive changes in the tuning of units in the owl's optic tectum to interaural level differences (ILD) that tend to align the auditory with the visual map of space. We investigated whether these changes could be due to experience-dependent plasticity occurring in the auditory pathway prior to the optic tectum. Units were recorded in the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICx), which is a major source of auditory input to the optic tectum. The tuning of ICx units to ILD was measured in normal barn owls and in barn owls raised with one ear occluded. ILD tuning at each recording site was measured with dichotic noise bursts, presented at a constant average binaural level, 20 dB above threshold. The best ILD at each site was defined as the midpoint of the range of ILD values which elicited more than 50% of the maximum response. A physiological map of ILD was found in the ICx of normal owls: best ILDs changed systematically from right-ear-greater to left-ear-greater as the electrode progressed from dorsal to ventral. Best ILDs ranged from 13 dB right-ear-greater to 15 dB left-ear-greater and progressed at an average rate of 12 dB/mm. The representations of ILD were similar on both sides of the brain. In the ICx of owls raised with one ear occluded, the map of ILD was shifted in the adaptive direction: ILD tuning was shifted towards values favoring the non-occluded ear (the direction that would restore a normal space map). The average magnitude of the shift was on the order of 8-10 dB in each of 4 owls. In one owl, the mean shift in ILD tuning was almost identical on both sides of the brain. In another owl, the mean shift was much larger on the side ipsilateral to the occlusion than on the contralateral side. In both cases, the mean shifts measured in each ICx were comparable to the mean shifts measured in the optic tectum on the same sides of the brain. Thus, the adjustments in ILD tuning that have been observed in the optic tectum in response to monaural occlusion are almost entirely due to adaptive mechanisms that operate at or before the level of the ICx.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Inferior Colliculi / growth & development
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology*