Responses of auditory duration-tuned neurons (DTNs) are selective for stimulus duration. We used single-unit extracellular recording to investigate how the inferior colliculus (IC) encodes frequency-modulated (FM) sweeps in the big brown bat. It was unclear whether the responses of so-called “FM DTNs” encode signal duration, like classic pure-tone DTNs, or the FM sweep rate. Most FM cells had spiking responses selective for downward FM sweeps. We presented cells with linear FM sweeps whose center frequency (CEF) was set to the best excitatory frequency and whose bandwidth (BW) maximized the spike count. With these baseline parameters, we stimulated cells with linear FM sweeps randomly varied in duration to measure the range of excitatory FM durations and/or sweep rates. To separate FM rate and FM duration tuning, we doubled (and halved) the BW of the baseline FM stimulus while keeping the CEF constant and then recollected each cell’s FM duration tuning curve. If the cell was tuned to FM duration, then the best duration (or range of excitatory durations) should remain constant despite changes in signal BW; however, if the cell was tuned to the FM rate, then the best duration should covary with the same FM rate at each BW. A Bayesian model comparison revealed that the majority of neurons were tuned to the FM sweep rate, although a few cells showed tuning for FM duration. We conclude that the dominant parameter for temporal tuning of FM neurons in the IC is FM sweep rate and not FM duration.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY Reports of inferior colliculus neurons with response selectivity to the duration of frequency-modulated (FM) stimuli exist, yet it remains unclear whether such cells are tuned to the FM duration or the FM sweep rate. To disambiguate these hypotheses, we presented neurons with variable-duration FM signals that were systematically manipulated in bandwidth. A Bayesian model comparison revealed that most temporally selective midbrain cells were tuned to the FM sweep rate and not the FM duration.