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J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2012 Feb;13(1):81-9. doi: 10.1007/s10162-011-0292-1. Epub 2011 Oct 1.

Neuron-specific stimulus masking reveals interference in spike timing at the cortical level.

Author information

1
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Hearing Research Center, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA. edlarson@alum.bu.edu

Abstract

The auditory system is capable of robust recognition of sounds in the presence of competing maskers (e.g., other voices or background music). This capability arises despite the fact that masking stimuli can disrupt neural responses at the cortical level. Since the origins of such interference effects remain unknown, in this study, we work to identify and quantify neural interference effects that originate due to masking occurring within and outside receptive fields of neurons. We record from single and multi-unit auditory sites from field L, the auditory cortex homologue in zebra finches. We use a novel method called spike timing-based stimulus filtering that uses the measured response of each neuron to create an individualized stimulus set. In contrast to previous adaptive experimental approaches, which have typically focused on the average firing rate, this method uses the complete pattern of neural responses, including spike timing information, in the calculation of the receptive field. When we generate and present novel stimuli for each neuron that mask the regions within the receptive field, we find that the time-varying information in the neural responses is disrupted, degrading neural discrimination performance and decreasing spike timing reliability and sparseness. We also find that, while removing stimulus energy from frequency regions outside the receptive field does not significantly affect neural responses for many sites, adding a masker in these frequency regions can nonetheless have a significant impact on neural responses and discriminability without a significant change in the average firing rate. These findings suggest that maskers can interfere with neural responses by disrupting stimulus timing information with power either within or outside the receptive fields of neurons.

PMID:
21964794
PMCID:
PMC3254720
DOI:
10.1007/s10162-011-0292-1
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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