Journal of Neuroscience vol:32 issue:28 pages:9517-9527
Stimulus-locked temporal codes are increasingly seen as relevant to perception. The timing of action potentials typically varies with stimulus intensity, and the invariance of temporal representations with intensity is therefore an issue. We examine the timing of action potentials in cat auditory nerve to broadband noise presented at different intensities, using an analysis inspired by coincidence detection and by the binaural "latency hypothesis." It is known that the two cues for azimuthal sound localization, interaural intensity or level differences and interaural time differences (ITDs), interact perceptually. According to the latency hypothesis, the increase in intensity for the ear nearest to a sound source off the midline causes a decrease in response latency in that ear relative to the other ear. We found that changes in intensity cause small but systematic shifts in the ongoing timing of responses in the auditory nerve, generally but not always resulting in shorter delays between stimulus onset and neural response for increasing intensity. The size of the temporal shifts depends on characteristic frequency with a pattern indicating a fine-structure and an envelope response regime. Overall, the results show that ongoing timing is remarkably stable with intensity at the most peripheral neural level. The results are not consistent in a simple way with the latency hypothesis, but because of the acute sensitivity to ITDs, the subtle effects of intensity on timing may nevertheless have perceptual consequences.