Time course of forward masking tuning curves in cat primary auditory cortex

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Feb;77(2):923-43. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.77.2.923.


Nonsimultaneous two-tone interactions were studied in the primary auditory cortex of anesthetized cats. Poststimulatory effects of pure tone bursts (masker) on the evoked activity of a fixed tone burst (probe) were investigated. The temporal interval from masker onset to probe onset (stimulus onset asynchrony), masker frequency, and intensity were parametrically varied. For all of the 53 single units and 58 multiple-unit clusters, the neural activity of the probe signal was either inhibited, facilitated, and/or delayed by a limited set of masker stimuli. The stimulus range from which forward inhibition of the probe was induced typically was centered at and had approximately the size of the neuron's excitatory receptive field. This "masking tuning curve" was usually V shaped, i.e., the frequency range of inhibiting masker stimuli increased with the masker intensity. Forward inhibition was induced at the shortest stimulus onset asynchrony between masker and probe. With longer stimulus onset asynchronies, the frequency range of inhibiting maskers gradually became smaller. Recovery from forward inhibition occurred first at the lower- and higher-frequency borders of the masking tuning curve and lasted the longest for frequencies close to the neuron's characteristic frequency. The maximal duration of forward inhibition was measured as the longest period over which reduction of probe responses was observed. It was in the range of 53-430 ms, with an average of 143 +/- 71 (SD) ms. Amount, duration and type of forward inhibition were weakly but significantly correlated with "static" neural receptive field properties like characteristic frequency, bandwidth, and latency. For the majority of neurons, the minimal inhibitory masker intensity increased when the stimulus onset asynchrony became longer. In most cases the highest masker intensities induced the longest forward inhibition. A significant number of neurons, however, exhibited longest periods of inhibition after maskers of intermediate intensity. The results show that the ability of cortical cells to respond with an excitatory activity depends on the temporal stimulus context. Neurons can follow higher repetition rates of stimulus sequences when successive stimuli differ in their spectral content. The differential sensitivity to temporal sound sequences within the receptive field of cortical cells as well as across different cells could contribute to the neural processing of temporally structured stimuli like speech and animal vocalizations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Cats
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*