Neural population coding of sound level adapts to stimulus statistics.
Dean I., Harper NS., McAlpine D.
Mammals can hear sounds extending over a vast range of sound levels with remarkable accuracy. How auditory neurons code sound level over such a range is unclear; firing rates of individual neurons increase with sound level over only a very limited portion of the full range of hearing. We show that neurons in the auditory midbrain of the guinea pig adjust their responses to the mean, variance and more complex statistics of sound level distributions. We demonstrate that these adjustments improve the accuracy of the neural population code close to the region of most commonly occurring sound levels. This extends the range of sound levels that can be accurately encoded, fine-tuning hearing to the local acoustic environment.