The evolution of temporal processing in the medial superior olive, an auditory brainstem structure
Prog Neurobiol 61: 581-610
|Type of Publication:||Journal Articles 1976 - 2000|
A basic concept in neuroscience is to correlate specific functions with specific neuronal structures. By discussing a specific example, an alternative concept is proposed: structures may be linked to rules of processing and these rules may serve different functions in different species or at different stages of evolution. The medial superior olive (MSO), a mammalian auditory brainstem structure, has been thought to solely process interaural time differences (ITD), the main cue for localizing low frequency sounds. Recent findings, however, indicate that this is not its only function since mammals that do not hear low frequencies and do not use ITDs for sound localization also possess a MSO. Recordings from the bat MSO indicate that it processes temporal cues in the milli- and submillisecond range, based on monaural or binaural inputs. In bats, and most likely in other small mammals, this temporal processing is related to pattern recognition and echo suppression rather than sound localization. However, the underlying mechanism, coincidence detection of several inputs, creates an epiphenomenal ITD sensitivity that is of no use for small mammals like bats or ancestral mammals. Such an epiphenomenal ITD sensitivity would have been a pre-adaptation which, when mammals grew larger during evolution and when localization of low frequency sounds became a question of survival, suddenly gained relevance. This way the MSO became involved in a new function without changing its basic rules of processing.