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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2011 May;197(5):571-83. doi: 10.1007/s00359-011-0627-8. Epub 2011 Feb 9.

Duration tuning in the auditory midbrain of echolocating and non-echolocating vertebrates.

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Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON, L8S 4K1, Canada.


Neurons tuned for stimulus duration were first discovered in the auditory midbrain of frogs. Duration-tuned neurons (DTNs) have since been reported from the central auditory system of both echolocating and non-echolocating mammals, and from the central visual system of cats. We hypothesize that the functional significance of auditory duration tuning likely varies between species with different evolutionary histories, sensory ecologies, and bioacoustic constraints. For example, in non-echolocating animals such as frogs and mice the temporal filtering properties of auditory DTNs may function to discriminate species-specific communication sounds. In echolocating bats duration tuning may also be used to create cells with highly selective responses for specific rates of frequency modulation and/or pulse-echo delays. The ability to echolocate appears to have selected for high temporal acuity in the duration tuning curves of inferior colliculus neurons in bats. Our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying sound duration selectivity has improved substantially since DTNs were first discovered almost 50 years ago, but additional research is required for a comprehensive understanding of the functional role and the behavioral significance that duration tuning plays in sensory systems.

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