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Spectral composition of concurrent noise affects neuronal sensitivity to interaural time differences of tones in the dorsal nucleus of the lateral lemniscus

J Neurophysiol 98: 2705-2715

Authors/Editors: Siveke I
Leibold C
Grothe B
Publication Date: 2007
Type of Publication: Journal Articles 2001 - 2018
We are regularly exposed to several concurrent sounds, producing a mixture of binaural cues. The neuronal mechanisms underlying the localization of concurrent sounds are not well understood. The major binaural cues for localizing low-frequency sounds in the horizontal plane are interaural time differences (ITDs). Auditory brain stem neurons encode ITDs by firing maximally in response to "favorable" ITDs and weakly or not at all in response to "unfavorable" ITDs. We recorded from ITD-sensitive neurons in the dorsal nucleus of the lateral lemniscus (DNLL) while presenting pure tones at different ITDs embedded in noise. We found that increasing levels of concurrent white noise suppressed the maximal response rate to tones with favorable ITDs and slightly enhanced the response rate to tones with unfavorable ITDs. Nevertheless, most of the neurons maintained ITD sensitivity to tones even for noise intensities equal to that of the tone. Using concurrent noise with a spectral composition in which the neuron's excitatory frequencies are omitted reduced the maximal response similar to that obtained with concurrent white noise. This finding indicates that the decrease of the maximal rate is mediated by suppressive cross-frequency interactions, which we also observed during monaural stimulation with additional white noise. In contrast, the enhancement of the firing rate to tones at unfavorable ITD might be due to early binaural interactions (e.g., at the level of the superior olive). A simple simulation corroborates this interpretation. Taken together, these findings suggest that the spectral composition of a concurrent sound strongly influences the spatial processing of ITD-sensitive DNLL neurons.

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