Dual Coding of Frequency Modulation in the Ventral Cochlear Nucleus.

05 Sep 2018

Frequency modulation (FM) is a common acoustic feature of natural sounds and is known to play a role in robust sound source recognition. Auditory neurons show precise stimulus-synchronized discharge patterns that may be used for the representation of low-rate FM. However, it remains unclear whether this representation is based on synchronization to slow temporal envelope (ENV) cues resulting from cochlear filtering or phase locking to faster temporal fine structure (TFS) cues. To investigate the plausibility of those encoding schemes, single units of the ventral cochlear nucleus of guinea pigs of either sex were recorded in response to sine FM tones centered at the unit's best frequency (BF). The results show that, in contrast to high-BF units, for modulation depths within the receptive field, low-BF units (<4 kHz) demonstrate good phase locking to TFS. For modulation depths extending beyond the receptive field, the discharge patterns follow the ENV and fluctuate at the modulation rate. The receptive field proved to be a good predictor of the ENV responses for most primary-like and chopper units. The current in vivo data also reveal a high level of diversity in responses across unit types. TFS cues are mainly conveyed by low-frequency and primary-like units and ENV cues by chopper and onset units. The diversity of responses exhibited by cochlear nucleus neurons provides a neural basis for a dual-coding scheme of FM in the brainstem based on both ENV and TFS cues.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Natural sounds, including speech, convey informative temporal modulations in frequency. Understanding how the auditory system represents those frequency modulations (FM) has important implications as robust sound source recognition depends crucially on the reception of low-rate FM cues. Here, we recorded 115 single-unit responses from the ventral cochlear nucleus in response to FM and provide the first physiological evidence of a dual-coding mechanism of FM via synchronization to temporal envelope cues and phase locking to temporal fine structure cues. We also demonstrate a diversity of neural responses with different coding specializations. These results support the dual-coding scheme proposed by psychophysicists to account for FM sensitivity in humans and provide new insights on how this might be implemented in the early stages of the auditory pathway.