Temporal Envelope Coding by Inferior Colliculus Neurons with Cochlear Implant Stimulation

Abstract

              <p>Modulations in temporal envelopes are a ubiquitous property of natural sounds and are especially important for hearing with cochlear implants (CIs) because these devices typically discard temporal fine structure information. With few exceptions, neural temporal envelope processing has been studied in both normal hearing (NH) and CI animals using only pure sinusoidal amplitude modulation (SAM) which poorly represents the diversity of envelope shapes contained in natural sounds because it confounds repetition rate and the width of each modulation cycle. Here, we used stimuli that allow independent manipulation of the two parameters to characterize envelope processing by inferior colliculus (IC) neurons in barbiturate-anesthetized cats with CIs. Specifically, the stimuli were amplitude modulated, high rate pulse trains, where the envelope waveform interleaved single cycles (“bursts”) of a sinusoid with silent intervals. We found that IC neurons vary widely with respect to the envelope parameters that maximize their firing rates. In general, pure SAM was a relatively ineffective stimulus. The majority of neurons (60 %) preferred a combination of short bursts and low repetition rates (long silent intervals). Others preferred low repetition rates with minimal dependence on envelope width (17 %), while the remainder responded most strongly to brief bursts with lesser sensitivity to repetition rate (23 %). A simple phenomenological model suggests that a combination of inhibitory and intrinsic cellular mechanisms suffices to account for the wide variation in optimal envelope shapes. In contrast to the strong dependence of firing rate on envelope shape, neurons tended to phase lock precisely to the envelope regardless of shape. Most neurons tended to fire specifically near the peak of the modulation cycle, with little phase dispersion within or across neurons. Such consistently precise timing degrades envelope coding compared to NH processing of real-world sounds, because it effectively eliminates spike timing as a cue to envelope shape.</p><br /><br />

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