The European journal of neuroscience

Spectral summation and facilitation in on- and off-responses for optimized representation of communication calls in mouse inferior colliculus.

PMID 27891665


Selectivity for processing of species-specific vocalizations and communication sounds has often been associated with the auditory cortex. The midbrain inferior colliculus, however, is the first center in the auditory pathways of mammals integrating acoustic information processed in separate nuclei and channels in the brainstem and, therefore, could significantly contribute to enhance the perception of species' communication sounds. Here, we used natural wriggling calls of mouse pups, which communicate need for maternal care to adult females, and further 15 synthesized sounds to test the hypothesis that neurons in the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus of adult females optimize their response rates for reproduction of the three main harmonics (formants) of wriggling calls. The results confirmed the hypothesis showing that average response rates, as recorded extracellularly from single units, were highest and spectral facilitation most effective for both onset and offset responses to the call and call models with three resolved frequencies according to critical bands in perception. In addition, the general on- and/or off-response enhancement in almost half the investigated 122 neurons favors not only perception of single calls but also of vocalization rhythm. In summary, our study provides strong evidence that critical-band resolved frequency components within a communication sound increase the probability of its perception by boosting the signal-to-noise ratio of neural response rates within the inferior colliculus for at least 20% (our criterion for facilitation). These mechanisms, including enhancement of rhythm coding, are generally favorable to processing of other animal and human vocalizations, including formants of speech sounds.