Contextual effects of noise on vocalization encoding in primary auditory cortex

Ruiye Ni, David A. Bender, Amirali M. Shanechi, Jeffrey R. Gamble, Dennis L. Barbour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Robust auditory perception plays a pivotal function for processing behaviorally relevant sounds, particularly with distractions from the environment. The neuronal coding enabling this ability, however, is still not well understood. In this study, we recorded single-unit activity from the primary auditory cortex (A1) of awake marmoset monkeys (Callithrix jacchus) while delivering conspecific vocalizations degraded by two different background noises: broadband white noise and vocalization babble. Noise effects on neural representation of target vocalizations were quantified by measuring the responses’ similarity to those elicited by natural vocalizations as a function of signal-to-noise ratio. A clustering approach was used to describe the range of response profiles by reducing the population responses to a summary of four response classes (robust, balanced, insensitive, and brittle) under both noise conditions. This clustering approach revealed that, on average, approximately two-thirds of the neurons change their response class when encountering different noises. Therefore, the distortion induced by one particular masking background in single-unit responses is not necessarily predictable from that induced by another, suggesting the low likelihood of a unique group of noise-invariant neurons across different background conditions in A1. Regarding noise influence on neural activities, the brittle response group showed addition of spiking activity both within and between phrases of vocalizations relative to clean vocalizations, whereas the other groups generally showed spiking activity suppression within phrases, and the alteration between phrases was noise dependent. Overall, the variable single-unit responses, yet consistent response types, imply that primate A1 performs scene analysis through the collective activity of multiple neurons. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The understanding of where and how auditory scene analysis is accomplished is of broad interest to neuro-scientists. In this paper, we systematically investigated neuronal coding of multiple vocalizations degraded by two distinct noises at various signal-to-noise ratios in nonhuman primates. In the process, we uncovered heterogeneity of single-unit representations for different auditory scenes yet homogeneity of responses across the population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-727
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 7 2017


  • Noise interference
  • Primary auditory cortex
  • Signal-to-noise ratio
  • Single unit
  • Vocalizations


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