Neural responses in the inferior colliculus to binaural masking level differences created by inverting the noise in one ear

Alan R. Palmer*, Dan Jiang, David McAlpine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


We have measured the responses of inferior colliculus neurons in the anesthetized guinea pig to signals which in human psychophysical experiments reveal a release of masking as a result of binaural processing (the binaural masking level difference: BMLD). More specifically we have used diotic tones at 500 Hz (So) masked by noise that is either identical at the two ears (No) or inverted in one ear (Nπ). This combination of signals and noise maskers produces a prominent masking release in humans such that the So signal is about 6-12 dB more detectable in the presence of the Nπ noise than the No noise. Low-frequency inferior colliculus neurons are sensitive to the interaural delay of the masking noise and generally respond most to the components nearest their best frequency. Since most inferior colliculus neurons have peaks in their delay functions close to zero interaural time delay this means that while No noise is effective in driving the unit, Nπ noise is much less effective. As the level of an So tone was progressively increased in the presence of No and Nπ noises, the first response could be either an increase or a decrease in the activity due to the noise. However, because Nπ generated little or no activity itself, the predominant response to the So tone was an increase in discharge in this condition. Masked thresholds were defined as the point at which the standard separation D (related to the d' of signal detection theory) = 1 in either direction. BMLDs were measured in single neurons and in the majority of units were in a direction consistent with the psychophysical observations irrespective of the direction of the discharge rate change that occurred at threshold. The lowest masked thresholds always occurred at or near the signal frequency of 500 Hz. An average value of the single unit BMLD around 500 Hz was 3.6 dB (NoSo vs. NπSo) compared with 6.6 dB for the NoSo versus NoSπ BMLD we had previously reported. This lower magnitude is consistent with the hierarchy of human psychophysical BMLDs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)844-852
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


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