Coincidence detection in the medial superior olive: Mechanistic implications of an analysis of input spiking patterns

Tom P. Franken, Peter Bremen, Philip X. Joris

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27 Scopus citations


Coincidence detection by binaural neurons in the medial superior olive underlies sensitivity to interaural time difference (ITD) and interaural correlation (ρ). It is unclear whether this process is akin to a counting of individual coinciding spikes, or rather to a correlation of membrane potential waveforms resulting from converging inputs from each side. We analyzed spike trains of axons of the cat trapezoid body (TB) and auditory nerve (AN) in a binaural coincidence scheme. ITD was studied by delaying "ipsi-" vs. "contralateral" inputs; ρ was studied by using responses to different noises. We varied the number of inputs; the monaural and binaural threshold and the coincidence window duration. We examined physiological plausibility of output "spike trains" by comparing their rate and tuning to ITD and ρ to those of binaural cells. We found that multiple inputs are required to obtain a plausible output spike rate. In contrast to previous suggestions, monaural threshold almost invariably needed to exceed binaural threshold. Elevation of the binaural threshold to values larger than 2 spikes caused a drastic decrease in rate for a short coincidence window. Longer coincidence windows allowed a lower number of inputs and higher binaural thresholds, but decreased the depth of modulation. Compared to AN fibers, TB fibers allowed higher output spike rates for a low number of inputs, but also generated more monaural coincidences. We conclude that, within the parameter space explored, the temporal patterns of monaural fibers require convergence of multiple inputs to achieve physiological binaural spike rates; that monaural coincidences have to be suppressed relative to binaural ones; and that the neuron has to be sensitive to single binaural coincidences of spikes, for a number of excitatory inputs per side of 10 or less. These findings suggest that the fundamental operation in the mammalian binaural circuit is coincidence counting of single binaural input spikes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number42
JournalFrontiers in Neural Circuits
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - May 1 2014


  • Auditory nerve
  • Coincidence detection
  • Coincidence window
  • Input convergence
  • Interaural correlation
  • Interaural time difference
  • Medial superior olive
  • Temporal coding


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