Information Content of Auditory Cortical Responses to Time-Varying Acoustic Stimuli

Thomas Lu, Xiaoqin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The present study explores the issue of cortical coding by spike count and timing using statistical and information theoretic methods. We have shown in previous studies that neurons in the auditory cortex of awake primates have an abundance of sustained discharges that could represent time-varying signals by temporal discharge patterns or mean firing rates. In particular, we found that a subpopulation of neurons can encode rapidly occurring sounds, such as a click train, with discharges that are not synchronized to individual stimulus events, suggesting a temporal-to-rate transformation. We investigated whether there were stimulus-specific temporal patterns embedded in these seemingly random spike times. Furthermore, we quantitatively analyzed the precision of spike timing at stimulus onset and during ongoing acoustic stimulation. The main findings are the following. 1) Temporal and rate codes may operate at separate stimulus domains or encode the same stimulus domain in parallel via different neuronal populations. 2) Spike timing was crucial to encode stimulus periodicity in "synchronized" neurons. 3) "Nonsynchronized" neurons showed little stimulus-specific spike timing information in their responses to time-varying signals. Such responses therefore represent processed (instead of preserved) information in the auditory cortex. And 4) spike timing on the occurrence of acoustic events was more precise at the first event than at successive ones and more precise with sparsely distributed events (longer time intervals between events) than with densely packed events. These results indicate that auditory cortical neurons mark sparse acoustic events (or onsets) with precise spike timing and transform rapidly occurring acoustic events into firing rate-based representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-313
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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