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Auditory neurons are often described in terms of their spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs). These map the relationship between features of the sound spectrogram and firing rates of neurons. Recently, we showed that neurons in the primary fields of the ferret auditory cortex are also subject to gain control: when sounds undergo smaller fluctuations in their level over time, the neurons become more sensitive to small-level changes (Rabinowitz et al., 2011). Just as STRFs measure the spectrotemporal features of a sound that lead to changes in the firing rates of neurons, in this study, we sought to estimate the spectrotemporal regions in which sound statistics lead to changes in the gain of neurons. We designed a set of stimuli with complex contrast profiles to characterize these regions. This allowed us to estimate the STRFs of cortical neurons alongside a set of spectrotemporal contrast kernels. We find that these two sets of integration windows match up: the extent to which a stimulus feature causes the firing rate of a neuron to change is strongly correlated with the extent to which the contrast of that feature modulates the gain of the neuron. Adding contrast kernels to STRF models also yields considerable improvements in the ability to capture and predict how auditory cortical neurons respond to statistically complex sounds.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





11271 - 11284


Acoustic Stimulation, Action Potentials, Animals, Auditory Cortex, Auditory Perception, Computer Simulation, Female, Ferrets, Male, Models, Neurological, Neurons, Nonlinear Dynamics, Sound