Spike-timing-based computation in sound localization
Goodman DFM, Brette R
PLoS Computational Biology (2010) 6(11): e1000993
Spike timing is precise in the auditory system and it has been argued that it conveys information about auditory stimuli, in particular about the location of a sound source. However, beyond simple time differences, the way in which neurons might extract this information is unclear and the potential computational advantages are unknown. The computational difficulty of this task for an animal is to locate the source of an unexpected sound from two monaural signals that are highly dependent on the unknown source signal. In neuron models consisting of spectro-temporal filtering and spiking nonlinearity, we found that the binaural structure induced by spatialized sounds is mapped to synchrony patterns that depend on source location rather than on source signal. Location-specific synchrony patterns would then result in the activation of location-specific assemblies of postsynaptic neurons. We designed a spiking neuron model which exploited this principle to locate a variety of sound sources in a virtual acoustic environment using measured human head-related transfer functions. The model was able to accurately estimate the location of previously unknown sounds in both azimuth and elevation (including front/back discrimination) in a known acoustic environment. We found that multiple representations of different acoustic environments could coexist as sets of overlapping neural assemblies which could be associated with spatial locations by Hebbian learning. The model demonstrates the computational relevance of relative spike timing to extract spatial information about sources independently of the source signal.