Transformation of binaural response properties in the ascending auditory pathway: Influence of time-varying interaural phase disparity

Matthew W. Spitzer, Malcolm N. Semple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies demonstrated that tuning of inferior colliculus (IC) neurons to interaural phase disparity (IPD) is often profoundly influenced by temporal variation of IPD, which simulates the binaural cue produced by a moving sound source. To determine whether sensitivity to simulated motion arises in IC or at an earlier stage of binaural processing we compared responses in IC with those of two major IPD-sensitive neuronal classes in the superior olivary complex (SOC), neurons whose discharges were phase locked (PL) to tonal stimuli and those that were nonphase locked (NPL). Time- varying IPD stimuli consisted of binaural beats, generated by presenting tones of slightly different frequencies to the two ears, and interaural phase modulation (IPM), generated by presenting a pure tone to one ear and a phase modulated tone to the other. IC neurons and NPL-SOC neurons were more sharply tuned to time-varying than to static IPD, whereas PL-SOC neurons were essentially uninfluenced by the mode of stimulus presentation. Preferred IPD was generally similar in responses to static and time-varying IPD for all unit populations. A few IC neurons were highly influenced by the direction and rate of simulated motion, but the major effect for most IC neurons and all SOC neurons was a linear shift of preferred IPD at high rates - attributable to response latency. Most IC and NPL-SOC neurons were strongly influenced by IPM stimuli simulating motion through restricted ranges of azimuth; simulated motion through partially overlapping azimuthal ranges elicited discharge profiles that were highly discontiguous, indicating that the response associated with a particular IPD is dependent on preceding portions of the stimulus. In contrast, PL-SOC responses tracked instantaneous IPD throughout the trajectory of simulated motion, resulting in highly contiguous discharge profiles for overlapping stimuli. This finding indicates that responses of PL-SOC units to time-varying IPD reflect only instantaneous IPD with no additional influence of dynamic stimulus attributes. Thus the neuronal representation of auditory spatial information undergoes a major transformation as interaural delay is initially processed in the SOC and subsequently reprocessed in IC. The finding that motion sensitivity in IC emerges from motion-insensitive input suggests that information about change of position is crucial to spatial processing at higher levels of the auditory system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3062-3076
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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