Journal of Neurophysiology

Analysis of dynamic spectra in ferret primary auditory cortex. I. Characteristics of single-unit responses to moving ripple spectra

N. Kowalski, D. A. Depireux, S. A. Shamma


1. Auditory stimuli referred to as moving ripples are used to characterize the responses of both single and multiple units in the ferret primary auditory cortex. Moving ripples are broadband complex sounds with a sinusoidal spectral profile that drift along the logarithmic frequency axis at a constant velocity. 2. Neuronal responses to moving ripples are locked to the phase of the ripple, i.e., they exhibit the same periodicity as that of the moving ripple profile. Neural responses are characterized as a function of ripple velocity (temporal property) and ripple frequency (spectral property). Transfer functions describing the response to these temporal and spectral modulations are constructed. Temporal transfer functions are inverse Fourier transformed to obtain impulse response functions that reflect the cell's temporal characteristics. Ripple transfer functions are inverse Fourier transformed to obtain the response field, a measure analogous to the cell's response area. These operations assume linearity in the cell's response to moving ripples. 3. Transfer functions and other response functions are shown to be fairly independent on the overall level or depth of modulation of the ripple stimuli. Only downward moving ripples were used in this study. 4. The temporal and ripple transfer functions are found to be separable, in that their shapes remain unchanged for different test parameters. Thus ripple transfer functions and response fields remain statistically similar in shape (to within an overall scale factor) regardless of the ripple velocity or whether stationary or moving ripples are used in the measurement. The same stability in shape holds for the temporal transfer functions and the impulse response functions measured with different ripple frequencies. Separability implies that the combined spectrotemporal transfer function of a cell can be written as the product of a purely ripple and a purely temporal transfer functions, and thus that the neuron can be computationally modeled as processing spectral and temporal information in two separate and successive stages. 5. The ripple parameters that characterize cortical cells are distributed somewhat evenly, with the characteristic ripple frequencies ranging from 0.2 to > 2 cycles/octave and the characteristic angular frequency typically ranging from 2 to 20 Hz. 6. Many responses exhibit periodicities in the spectral envelope of the stimulus. These periodicities are of two types. Slow rebounds, not found in the spectral envelope, and with a period of approximately 150 ms, appear with various strengths in approximately 30% of the cells. Fast regular firings with interspike intervals of approximately 10 ms are much less common and appear to correspond to interactions between the component tones that make up a ripple.