Neural timing of stimulus events with microsecond precision

by Jinhong Luo, Silvio Macias, Torbjørn V. Ness, Gaute T. Einevoll, Kechen Zhang, Cynthia F. Moss

Temporal analysis of sound is fundamental to auditory processing throughout the animal kingdom. Echolocating bats are powerful models for investigating the underlying mechanisms of auditory temporal processing, as they show microsecond precision in discriminating the timing of acoustic events. However, the neural basis for microsecond auditory discrimination in bats has eluded researchers for decades. Combining extracellular recordings in the midbrain inferior colliculus (IC) and mathematical modeling, we show that microsecond precision in registering stimulus events emerges from synchronous neural firing, revealed through low-latency variability of stimulus-evoked extracellular field potentials (EFPs, 200–600 Hz). The temporal precision of the EFP increases with the number of neurons firing in synchrony. Moreover, there is a functional relationship between the temporal precision of the EFP and the spectrotemporal features of the echolocation calls. In addition, EFP can measure the time difference of simulated echolocation call–echo pairs with microsecond precision. We propose that synchronous firing of populations of neurons operates in diverse species to support temporal analysis for auditory localization and complex sound processing.

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