Temporal coherence sensitivity in auditory cortex

Dennis L. Barbour, Xiaoqin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Natural sounds often contain energy over a broad spectral range and consequently overlap in frequency when they occur simultaneously; however, such sounds under normal circumstances can be distinguished perceptually (e.g., the cocktail party effect). Sound components arising from different sources have distinct (i.e., incoherent) modulations, and incoherence appears to be one important cue used by the auditory system to segregate sounds into separately perceived acoustic objects. Here we show that, in the primary auditory cortex of awake marmoset monkeys, many neurons responsive to amplitude- or frequency-modulated tones at a particular carrier frequency [the characteristic frequency (CF)] also demonstrate sensitivity to the relative modulation phase between two otherwise identically modulated tones: one at CF and one at a different carrier frequency. Changes in relative modulation phase reflect alterations in temporal coherence between the two tones, and the most common neuronal response was found to be a maximum of suppression for the coherent condition. Coherence sensitivity was generally found in a narrow frequency range in the inhibitory portions of the frequency response areas (FRA), indicating that only some off-CF neuronal inputs into these cortical neurons interact with on-CF inputs on the same time scales. Over the population of neurons studied, carrier frequencies showing coherence sensitivity were found to coincide with the carrier frequencies of inhibition, implying that inhibitory inputs create the effect. The lack of strong coherence-induced facilitation also supports this interpretation. Coherence sensitivity was found to be greatest for modulation frequencies of 16-128 Hz, which is higher than the phase-locking capability of most cortical neurons, implying that subcortical neurons could play a role in the phenomenon. Collectively, these results reveal that auditory cortical neurons receive some off-CF inputs temporally matched and some temporally unmatched to the on-CF input(s) and respond in a fashion that could be utilized by the auditory system to segregate natural sounds containing similar spectral components (such as vocalizations from multiple conspecifics) based on stimulus coherence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2684-2699
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2002


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