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J Neurophysiol. 2005 Jul;94(1):400-14. Epub 2005 Mar 2.

Effects of inhibitory feedback in a network model of avian brain stem.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, 44 Cummington St., Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


The avian auditory brain stem consists of a network of specialized nuclei, including nucleus laminaris (NL) and superior olivary nucleus (SON). NL cells show sensitivity to interaural time difference (ITD), a critical cue that underlies spatial hearing. SON cells provide inhibitory feedback to the rest of the network. Empirical data suggest that feedback inhibition from SON could increase the ITD sensitivity of NL across sound level. Using a bilateral network model, we assess the effects of SON feedback inhibition. Individual cells are specified as modified leaky-integrate-and-fire neurons with time constants and thresholds that vary with inhibitory input. Acoustic sound level is reflected in the discharge rates of the model auditory-nerve fibers, which innervate the network. Simulations show that with SON inhibitory feedback, ITD sensitivity is maintained in model NL cells over a threefold range in auditory-nerve discharge rate. In contrast, without SON feedback inhibition, ITD sensitivity is significantly reduced as input rates are increased. Feedback inhibition is most beneficial in maintaining ITD sensitivity at high-input rates (simulating high sound levels). With SON inhibition, ITD sensitivity is maintained for both interaurally balanced inputs (simulating an on-center sound source) and interaurally imbalanced inputs (simulating a lateralized source). Further, the empirically observed temporal build-up of SON inhibition and the presence of reciprocal inhibitory connections between the ipsi- and contralateral SON both improve ITD sensitivity. In sum, our network model shows that inhibitory feedback can substantially increase the sensitivity and dynamic range of ITD coding in the avian auditory brain stem.

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