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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2010 Sep;11(3):477-94. doi: 10.1007/s10162-010-0215-6. Epub 2010 Apr 6.

Forward masking estimated by signal detection theory analysis of neuronal responses in primary auditory cortex.

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MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Science Road, University Park, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, UK.


Psychophysical forward masking is an increase in threshold of detection of a sound (probe) when it is preceded by another sound (masker). This is reminiscent of the reduction in neuronal responses to a sound following prior stimulation. Studies in the auditory nerve and cochlear nucleus using signal detection theory techniques to derive neuronal thresholds showed that in centrally projecting neurons, increases in masked thresholds were significantly smaller than the changes measured psychophysically. Larger threshold shifts have been reported in the inferior colliculus of awake marmoset. The present study investigated the magnitude of forward masking in primary auditory cortical neurons of anaesthetised guinea-pigs. Responses of cortical neurons to unmasked and forward masked tones were measured and probe detection thresholds estimated using signal detection theory methods. Threshold shifts were larger than in the auditory nerve, cochlear nucleus and inferior colliculus. The larger threshold shifts suggest that central, and probably cortical, processes contribute to forward masking. However, although methodological differences make comparisons difficult, the threshold shifts in cortical neurons were, in contrast to subcortical nuclei, actually larger than those observed psychophysically. Masking was largely attributable to a reduction in the responses to the probe, rather than either a persistence of the masker responses or an increase in the variability of probe responses.

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