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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2011 Jan;197(1):97-108. doi: 10.1007/s00359-010-0591-8. Epub 2010 Oct 8.

Interval-counting neurons in the anuran auditory midbrain: factors underlying diversity of interval tuning.

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Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.


In anurans, the temporal patterning of sound pulses is the primary information used for differentiating between spectrally similar calls. One class of midbrain neurons, referred to as 'interval-counting' cells, appears to be particularly important for discriminating among calls that differ in pulse repetition rate (PRR). These cells only respond after several pulses are presented with appropriate interpulse intervals. Here we show that the range of selectivity and sharpness of interval tuning vary considerably across neurons. Whole-cell recordings revealed that neurons showing temporally summating excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) with little or no inhibition or activity-dependent enhancement of excitation exhibited low-pass or band-pass tuning to slow PRRs. Neurons that showed inhibition and rate-dependent enhancement of excitation, however, were band-pass or high-pass to intermediate or fast PRRs. Surprisingly, across cells, interval tuning based on membrane depolarization and spike rate measures were not significantly correlated. Neurons that lacked inhibition showed the greatest disparities between these two measures of interval tuning. Cells that showed broad membrane potential-based tuning, for example, varied considerably in their spike rate-based tuning; narrow spike rate-based tuning resulted from 'thresholding' processes, whereby only the largest depolarizations triggered spikes. The potential constraints associated with generating interval tuning in this manner are discussed.

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