Binaural sensitivity changes between cortical on and off responses.
Hartley DE., Dahmen JC., King AJ., Schnupp JW.
Neurons exhibiting on and off responses with different frequency tuning have previously been described in the primary auditory cortex (A1) of anesthetized and awake animals, but it is unknown whether other tuning properties, including sensitivity to binaural localization cues, also differ between on and off responses. We measured the sensitivity of A1 neurons in anesthetized ferrets to 1) interaural level differences (ILDs), using unmodulated broadband noise with varying ILDs and average binaural levels, and 2) interaural time delays (ITDs), using sinusoidally amplitude-modulated broadband noise with varying envelope ITDs. We also assessed fine-structure ITD sensitivity and frequency tuning, using pure-tone stimuli. Neurons most commonly responded to stimulus onset only, but purely off responses and on-off responses were also recorded. Of the units exhibiting significant binaural sensitivity nearly one-quarter showed binaural sensitivity in both on and off responses, but in almost all (∼97%) of these units the binaural tuning of the on responses differed significantly from that seen in the off responses. Moreover, averaged, normalized ILD and ITD tuning curves calculated from all units showing significant sensitivity to binaural cues indicated that on and off responses displayed different sensitivity patterns across the population. A principal component analysis of ITD response functions suggested a continuous cortical distribution of binaural sensitivity, rather than discrete response classes. Rather than reflecting a release from inhibition without any functional significance, we propose that binaural off responses may be important to cortical encoding of sound-source location.