Temporal Masking Reveals Properties of Sound-Evoked Inhibition in Duration-Tuned Neurons of the Inferior Colliculus
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The inferior colliculus (IC) is the first place in the central auditory pathway where duration-selective neurons are found. Previous neuropharmacological and electrophysiological studies have shown that they are created there and have led to a conceptual model in which excitatory and inhibitory inputs are offset in time so that the cell fires only when sound duration is such that onset- and offset-evoked excitation coincide; the response is suppressed by inhibition at other durations. We tested predictions from the model using paired tone stimulation and extracellular recording in the IC of the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus. Responses to a best duration (BD) tone were used as a probe to examine the strength and time course of inhibition activated by a nonexcitatory (NE) tone of the same frequency but differing in duration. As the relative time between the BD and NE tones was varied, the activity evoked by the BD tone was affected in ways comparable with backward, simultaneous, and forward masking. Responses to the BD tone were completely suppressed at short interstimulus intervals when the BD tone preceded the NE tone. Suppression was also seen when the stimuli temporally overlapped and summed and at intervals when the BD tone followed the NE tone. The results show that duration-selective neurons receive an onset-evoked, inhibitory input that precedes their excitatory input. The period of leading inhibition was correlated with BD and first spike latency. The results suggest how inhibition in the CNS could explain temporal masking phenomena, including backward masking.
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