Neural correlates of binaural masking level difference in the inferior colliculus of the barn owl (Tyto alba)

Humans and animals are able to detect signals in noisy environments. Detection improves when the noise and the signal have different interaural phase relationships. The resulting improvement in detection threshold is called the binaural masking level difference. We investigated neural mechanisms underlying the release from masking in the inferior colliculus of barn owls in low-frequency and high-frequency neurons. A tone (signal) was presented either with the same interaural time difference as the noise (masker) or at a 180 degrees phase shift as compared with the interaural time difference of the noise. The changes in firing rates induced by the addition of a signal of increasing level while masker level was kept constant was well predicted by the relative responses to the masker and signal alone. In many cases, the response at the highest signal levels was dominated by the response to the signal alone, in spite of a significant response to the masker at low signal levels, suggesting the presence of occlusion. Detection thresholds and binaural masking level differences were widely distributed. The amount of release from masking increased with increasing masker level. Narrowly tuned neurons in the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus had detection thresholds that were lower than or similar to those of broadly tuned neurons in the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus. Broadly tuned neurons exhibited higher masking level differences than narrowband neurons. These data suggest that detection has different spectral requirements from localization.

Authors: Asadollahi A, Endler F, Nelken I, Wagner H.
Year of publication: 2010
Journal: Eur J Neurosci. 2010 Aug;32(4):606-18.

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