Stochastic properties of cat auditory nerve responses to electric and acoustic stimuli and application to intensity discrimination

Eric Javel, Neal F. Viemeister

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43 Scopus citations


Statistical properties of electrically stimulated (ES) and acoustically stimulated (AS) auditory nerve fiber responses were assessed in undeafened and short-term deafened cats, and a detection theory approach was used to determine fibers' abilities to signal intensity changes. ES responses differed from AS responses in several ways. Rate-level functions were an order of magnitude steeper, and discharge rate normally saturated at the stimulus pulse rate. Dynamic ranges were typically 1-4 dB for 200 pps signals, as compared with 15-30 dB for AS signals at CF, and they increased with pulse rate without improving threshold or changing absolute rate-level function slopes. For both ES and AS responses, variability of spike counts elicited by repeated trials increased with level in accord with Poisson- process predictions until the discharge rate exceeded 20-40 spikes/s. AS variability continued increasing monotonically at higher discharge rates, but more slowly. In contrast, maximum ES variability was usually attained at 100 spikes/s, and at higher discharge rates variability reached a plateau that was either maintained or decreased slightly until discharge rate approached the stimulus pulse rate. Variability then decreased to zero as each pulse elicited a spike. Increasing pulse rate did not substantially affect variability for rates up to 800 pps; rather, higher pulse rates simply extended the plateau region. Spike count variability was unusually high for some ES fibers. This was traced to response nonstationarities that stemmed from two sources, namely level-dependent fluctuations in excitability that occurred at 1-3 s intervals and, for responses to high-rate, high-intensity signals, fatigue that arose when fibers discharged at their maximum possible rates. Intensity discrimination performance was assessed using spike count as the decision variable in a simulated 2IFC task. Neurometric functions (percent correct versus intensity difference) were obtained at several levels of the standard (I), and the intensity difference (ΔI) necessary for 70% correct responses was estimated. AS Weber fractions (10 log ΔI/I) averaged +0.2 dB (ΔI(dB) = 3.1 dB) for 50 ms tones at CF. ES Weber fractions averaged -12.8 dB (ΔI(dB) = 0.23 dB) for 50 ms, 200 pps signals, and performance was approximately constant between 100 and 1000 pps. Intensity discrimination by single cells in ES conditions paralleled human psychophysical performance for similar signals. High ES sensitivity to intensity changes arose primarily from steeper rate-level functions and secondarily from reduced spike count variability. (C) 2000 Acoustical Society of America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)908-921
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


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