Duration tuning in the mammalian inferior colliculus (IC) is created by the interaction of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs. We used extracellular recordings and paired tone stimulation to measure the strength and time course of the contralateral inhibition underlying duration-tuned neurons (DTNs) in the IC of the awake bat. The onset time of a short, best duration (BD), excitatory probe tone set to +10 dB (re threshold) was varied relative to the onset of a longer-duration, nonexcitatory (NE) suppressor tone whose sound pressure level (SPL) was varied. Spikes evoked by the roving BD tone were suppressed when the stationary NE tone amplitude was at or above the BD tone threshold. When the NE tone was increased from 0 to +10 dB, the inhibitory latency became shorter than the excitatory first-spike latency and the duration of inhibition increased, but no further changes occurred at +20 dB (re BD tone threshold). We used the effective duration of inhibition as a function of the NE tone amplitude to obtain suppression-level functions that were used to estimate the inhibitory half-maximum SPL (ISPL50). We also measured rate-level functions of DTNs with single BD tones varied in SPL and modeled the excitatory half-maximum SPL (ESPL50). There was a correlation between the ESPL50 and ISPL50, and the dynamic range of excitation and inhibition were similar. We conclude that the strength of inhibition changes in proportion to excitation as a function of SPL, and this feature likely contributes to the amplitude tolerance of the responses of DTNs.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY Duration-tuned neurons arise from excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs offset in time. We measured the strength and time course of inhibition to changes in sound level. The onset of inhibition shortened while its duration lengthened as the stimulus level increased from 0 to +10 dB re threshold; however, no further changes were observed at +20 dB. Excitatory rate-level and inhibitory suppression-level response functions were strongly correlated, suggesting a mechanism for level tolerance in duration tuning.