The auditory system extracts behaviorally relevant information from acoustic stimuli. The average activity in auditory cortex is known to be sensitive to spectro-temporal patterns in sounds. However, it is not known whether the auditory cortex also processes more abstract features of sounds, which may be more behaviorally relevant than spectro-temporal patterns. Using recordings from three stations of the auditory pathway, the inferior colliculus (IC), the ventral division of the medial geniculate body (MGB) of the thalamus, and the primary auditory cortex (A1) of the cat in response to natural sounds, we compared the amount of information that spikes contained about two aspects of the stimuli: spectro-temporal patterns, and abstract entities present in the same stimuli such as a bird chirp, its echoes, and the ambient noise. IC spikes conveyed on average approximately the same amount of information about spectro-temporal patterns as they conveyed about abstract auditory entities, but A1 and the MGB neurons conveyed on average three times more information about abstract auditory entities than about spectro-temporal patterns. Thus, the majority of neurons in auditory thalamus and cortex coded well the presence of abstract entities in the sounds without containing much information about their spectro-temporal structure, suggesting that they are sensitive to abstract features in these sounds.
Auditory abstraction from spectro-temporal features to coding auditory entities
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