Sharpening of frequency tuning by inhibition in the thalamic auditory nucleus of the mustached bat

J Neurophysiol. 1997 Apr;77(4):2098-114. doi: 10.1152/jn.1997.77.4.2098.


Unlike the quasitriangular frequency-tuning curves of peripheral neurons, pencil- or spindle-shaped frequency-tuning curves (excitatory areas) have been found in the central auditory systems of many species of animals belonging to different classes. Inhibitory tuning curves (areas) are commonly found on both sides of such "level-tolerant" sharp frequency-tuning curves. However, it has not yet been examined whether sharpening of frequency tuning takes place in the medial geniculate body (MGB). We injected an inhibitory transmitter antagonist, bicuculline methiodide (BMI), into the MGB of the mustached bat to examine whether frequency tuning is sharpened by inhibition in the MGB and whether this sharpening, if any, occurs in addition to that performed in prethalamic auditory nuclei. Thirty-seven percent of thalamic Doppler-shifted constant frequency (DSCF) neurons mostly showing a level-tolerant frequency-tuning curve had an inhibitory area or areas. BMI changed the inhibitory areas of these neurons into excitatory areas, so that their excitatory frequency-tuning curves became broader. However, the BMI-broadened excitatory frequency-tuning curves were still much narrower than those of peripheral neurons. Our results indicate that level-tolerant frequency tuning of thalamic DSCF neurons is mostly created by prethalamic auditory nuclei and that it is further sharpened in 37% of thalamic DSCF neurons by lateral inhibition occurring in the MGB. The comparisons in sharpness (quality factors) of frequency-tuning curves between peripheral, thalamic, and cortical DSCF neurons indicate that the skirt portion of tuning curves is sharper in the above order, and that their tip portion is not significantly different between the peripheral and thalamic DSCF neurons, but significantly sharper in the cortical DSCF neurons than in the thalamic DSCF neurons. Therefore the central auditory system has inhibitory mechanisms for the progressive sharpening of frequency tuning. DSCF neurons in the primary auditory cortex were recently found to show facilitative responses to paired sounds. That is, they are combination sensitive. In the present studies, we found that thalamic DSCF neurons also showed facilitative responses to paired sounds. The responses of thalamic DSCF neurons to acoustic stimuli consisted of a slow and a fast component. BMI mainly increased the slow component and an excitatory transmitter antagonist, D-2-amino-5-phosphonovalerate mainly suppressed the slow component. Therefore the response pattern of these thalamic neurons is shaped by both gamma-aminobutyric acid-mediated inhibition and N-methyl-D-aspartate-mediated facilitation.

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*
  • Auditory Threshold / physiology*
  • Bicuculline / analogs & derivatives
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Geniculate Bodies / cytology
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology*
  • N-Methylaspartate / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*


  • GABA Antagonists
  • bicuculline methiodide
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Bicuculline