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J Neurophysiol. 1997 May;77(5):2360-72.

Neural tuning to sound duration in the inferior colliculus of the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Neural tuning to different sound durations may be a useful filter for identification of certain sounds, especially those that are biologically important. The auditory midbrains of mammals and amphibians contain neurons that appear to be tuned to sound duration. In amphibians, neurons are tuned to durations of sound that are biologically important. The purpose of this study was to characterize responses of neurons in the inferior colliculus (IC) of the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus, to sounds of different durations. Our aims were to determine what percent of neurons are duration tuned and how best durations are correlated to durations of echolocation calls, and to examine response properties that may be relevant to the mechanism for duration tuning, such as latency and temporal firing pattern; we also examined frequency tuning and rate-level functions. We recorded from 136 single units in the central nucleus of the IC of unanesthetized bats. The stimuli were pure tones, frequency-modulated sweeps, and broadband noise. The criterion for duration tuning was an increase in spike count of > or = 50% at some durations compared with others. Of the total units sampled, 36% were tuned to stimulus duration. All of these units were located in the caudal half of the IC. Best duration for most units ranged from < 1 to 10 ms, but a few had best durations up to > or = 20 ms. This range is similar to the range of durations of echolocation calls used by Eptesicus. All duration-tuned neurons responded transiently. The minimum latency was always longer than the best duration. Duration-tuned units have best durations and best frequencies that match the temporal structure and frequency range of the echolocation calls. Thus the results raise the hypothesis that neurons in the IC of Eptesicus, and probably the auditory midbrain of other vertebrates, are tuned to biologically important sound durations. We suggest a model for duration tuning consisting of three components: 1) inhibitory input that is correlated with the onset of the stimulus and is sustained for the stimulus duration; 2) transient excitation that is correlated with the offset of the stimulus; and 3) transient excitation that is correlated with the onset of the stimulus but is delayed in time relative to the onset of inhibition. For the neuron to fire, the two excitatory events must coincide in time; noncoincident excitatory events are not sufficient.

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