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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Nov;108(9):2612-28. doi: 10.1152/jn.00303.2012. Epub 2012 Aug 22.

Neural encoding of sound source location in the presence of a concurrent, spatially separated source.

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Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


In the presence of multiple, spatially separated sound sources, the binaural cues used for sound localization in the horizontal plane become distorted from the cues from each sound in isolation, yet localization in everyday multisource acoustic environments remains robust. We examined changes in the azimuth tuning functions of inferior colliculus (IC) neurons in unanesthetized rabbits to a target broadband noise when a concurrent broadband noise interferer was presented at different locations in virtual acoustic space. The presence of an interferer generally degraded sensitivity to target azimuth and distorted the shape of the tuning function, yet most neurons remained significantly sensitive to target azimuth and maintained tuning function shapes somewhat similar to those for the target alone. Using binaural cue manipulations in virtual acoustic space, we found that single-source tuning functions of neurons with high best frequencies (BFs) were primarily determined by interaural level differences (ILDs) or monaural level, with a small influence of interaural time differences (ITDs) in some neurons. However, with a centrally located interferer, the tuning functions of most high-BF neurons were strongly influenced by ITDs as well as ILDs. Model-based analysis showed that the shapes of these tuning functions were in part produced by decorrelation of the left and right cochlea-induced envelopes that occurs with source separation. The strong influence of ITD on the tuning functions of high-BF neurons poses a challenge to the "duplex theory" of sound localization and suggests that ITD may be important for localizing high-frequency sounds in multisource environments.

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