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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2009 Dec;10(4):579-93. doi: 10.1007/s10162-009-0177-8. Epub 2009 Jun 9.

Processing temporal modulations in binaural and monaural auditory stimuli by neurons in the inferior colliculus and auditory cortex.

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Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, CB# 7070, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-7070, USA.


Processing dynamic changes in the stimulus stream is a major task for sensory systems. In the auditory system, an increase in the temporal integration window between the inferior colliculus (IC) and auditory cortex is well known for monaural signals such as amplitude modulation, but a similar increase with binaural signals has not been demonstrated. To examine the limits of binaural temporal processing at these brain levels, we used the binaural beat stimulus, which causes a fluctuating interaural phase difference, while recording from neurons in the unanesthetized rabbit. We found that the cutoff frequency for neural synchronization to the binaural beat frequency (BBF) decreased between the IC and auditory cortex, and that this decrease was associated with an increase in the group delay. These features indicate that there is an increased temporal integration window in the cortex compared to the IC, complementing that seen with monaural signals. Comparable measurements of responses to amplitude modulation showed that the monaural and binaural temporal integration windows at the cortical level were quantitatively as well as qualitatively similar, suggesting that intrinsic membrane properties and afferent synapses to the cortical neurons govern the dynamic processing. The upper limits of synchronization to the BBF and the band-pass tuning characteristics of cortical neurons are a close match to human psychophysics.

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