Get access

Adaptation in the auditory midbrain of the barn owl (Tyto alba) induced by tonal double stimulation


Hermann Wagner, as above.


During hunting, the barn owl typically listens to several successive sounds as generated, for example, by rustling mice. As auditory cells exhibit adaptive coding, the earlier stimuli may influence the detection of the later stimuli. This situation was mimicked with two double-stimulus paradigms, and adaptation was investigated in neurons of the barn owl’s central nucleus of the inferior colliculus. Each double-stimulus paradigm consisted of a first or reference stimulus and a second stimulus (probe). In one paradigm (second level tuning), the probe level was varied, whereas in the other paradigm (inter-stimulus interval tuning), the stimulus interval between the first and second stimulus was changed systematically. Neurons were stimulated with monaural pure tones at the best frequency, while the response was recorded extracellularly. The responses to the probe were significantly reduced when the reference stimulus and probe had the same level and the inter-stimulus interval was short. This indicated response adaptation, which could be compensated for by an increase of the probe level of 5–7 dB over the reference level, if the latter was in the lower half of the dynamic range of a neuron’s rate-level function. Recovery from adaptation could be best fitted with a double exponential showing a fast (1.25 ms) and a slow (800 ms) component. These results suggest that neurons in the auditory system show dynamic coding properties to tonal double stimulation that might be relevant for faithful upstream signal propagation. Furthermore, the overall stimulus level of the masker also seems to affect the recovery capabilities of auditory neurons.