Journal of Neurophysiology vol:111 issue:4 pages:817-835
Besides the rapid fluctuations in pressure that constitute the "fine structure" of a sound stimulus, slower fluctuations in the sound's envelope represent an important temporal feature. At various stages in the auditory system, neurons exhibit tuning to envelope frequency and have been described as modulation filters. We examine such tuning in the ventral nucleus of the lateral lemniscus (VNLL) of the pentobarbital-anesthetized cat. The VNLL is a large but poorly accessible auditory structure that provides a massive inhibitory input to the inferior colliculus. We test whether envelope filtering effectively applies to the envelope spectrum when multiple envelope components are simultaneously present. We find two broad classes of response with often complementary properties. The firing rate of onset neurons is tuned to a band of modulation frequencies, over which they also synchronize strongly to the envelope waveform. Although most sustained neurons show little firing-rate dependence on modulation frequency, some of them are weakly tuned. The latter neurons are usually band-pass or low-pass tuned in synchronization, and a reverse-correlation approach demonstrates that their modulation tuning is preserved to nonperiodic, noisy envelope modulations of a tonal carrier. Modulation tuning to this type of stimulus is weaker for onset neurons, In response to broadband noise, sustained and onset neurons tend to filter out envelope components over a frequency range consistent with their modulation tuning to periodically modulated tones. The results support a role for VNLL in providing temporal reference signals to the auditory midbrain.