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Lesica, Nicholas A.; Lingner, Andrea; Grothe, Benedikt (2010): Population Coding of Interaural Time Differences in Gerbils and Barn Owls. In: The journal of neuroscience, Vol. 30, No. 35: pp. 11696-11702




Interaural time differences (ITDs) are the primary cue for the localization of low-frequency sound sources in the azimuthal plane. For decades, it was assumed that the coding of ITDs in the mammalian brain was similar to that in the avian brain, where information is sparsely distributed across individual neurons, but recent studies have suggested otherwise. In this study, we characterized the representation of ITDs in adult male and female gerbils. First, we performed behavioral experiments to determine the acuity with which gerbils can use ITDs to localize sounds. Next, we used different decoders to infer ITDs from the activity of a population of neurons in central nucleus of the inferior colliculus. These results show that ITDs are not represented in a distributed manner, but rather in the summed activity of the entire population. To contrast these results with those from a population where the representation of ITDs is known to be sparsely distributed, we performed the same analysis on activity from the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus of adult male and female barn owls. Together, our results support the idea that, unlike the avian brain, the mammalian brain represents ITDs in the overall activity of a homogenous population of neurons within each hemisphere.