Representation of acoustic signals in the eighth nerve of the Tokay gecko. II. Masking of pure tones with noise

Hear Res. 1996 Oct;100(1-2):131-42. doi: 10.1016/0378-5955(96)00104-9.


Acoustic signals are generally encoded in the peripheral auditory system of vertebrates by a duality scheme. For frequency components that fall within the excitatory tuning curve, individual eighth nerve fibers can encode the effective spectral energy by a spike-rate code, while simultaneously preserving the signal waveform periodicity of lower frequency components by phase-locked spike-train discharges. To explore how robust this duality of representation may be in the presence of noise, we recorded the responses of auditory fibers in the eighth nerve of the Tokay gecko to tonal stimuli when masking noise was added simultaneously. We found that their spike-rate functions reached plateau levels fairly rapidly in the presence of noise, so the ability to signal the presence of a tone by a concomitant change in firing rate was quickly lost. On the other hand, their synchronization functions maintained a high degree of phase-locked firings to the tone even in the presence of high-intensity masking noise, thus enabling a robust detection of the tonal signal. Critical ratios (CR) and critical bandwidths showed that in the frequency range where units are able to phaselock to the tonal periodicity, the CR bands were relatively narrow and the bandwidths were independent of noise level. However, to higher frequency tones where phaselocking fails and only spike-rate codes apply, the CR bands were much wider and depended upon noise level, so that their ability to filter tones out of a noisy background degraded with increasing noise levels. The greater robustness of phase-locked temporal encoding contrasted with spike-rate coding verifies a important advantage in using lower frequency signals for communication in noisy environments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Threshold / physiology*
  • Lizards
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers / metabolism
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Noise*
  • Perceptual Masking*
  • Sound Localization
  • Vestibulocochlear Nerve / physiology*