Neural response to very low-frequency sound in the avian cochlear nucleus

Mark E. Warchol*, Peter Dallos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Recordings were made in the chick cochlear nucleus from neurons that are sensitive to very low frequency sound. The tuning, discharge rate response and phase-locking properties of these units are described in detail. The principal conclusions are: 1. Low frequency (LF) units respond to sound frequencies between 10-800 Hz. Best thresholds average 60 dB SPL, and are occasionally as low as 40 dB SPL. While behavioral thresholds in this frequency range are not available for the domestic chick, these values are in good agreement with the pigeon behavioral audiogram (Kreithen and Quine 1979). 2. About 60% of the unit population displays tuning curves resembling low-pass filter functions with corner frequencies between 50-250 Hz. The remaining units have broad band-pass tuning curves. Best frequencies range from 50-300 Hz. 3. Spontaneous discharge rate was analyzed quantitatively for LF units recorded from nucleus angularis. The distribution of spontaneous rates for LF units is similar to that seen from higher CF units (300-5000 Hz) found in the same nucleus. However, the spontaneous firing of LF units is considerably more regular than that of their higher CF counterparts. 4. Low frequency units with low spontaneous rates (SR's < 40 spikes/s) show large driven rate increases and usually saturate by discharging once or twice per stimulus cycle. Higher SR units often show no driven rate increases. 5. All LF units show strong phase-locking at all excitatory stimulus frequencies. Vector strengths as high as 0.98 have been observed at moderate sound levels. 6. The preferred phase of discharge (relative to the sound stimulus) increases with stimulus frequency in a nearly linear manner. This is consistent with the LF units being stimulated by a traveling wave. The slope of these phase-frequency relationships provides an estimate of traveling wave delay. These delays average 7.2 ms, longer than those seen for higher CF auditory brainstem units. These observations suggest that the peripheral site of low frequency sensitivity is the very distal region of the basilar papilla, an area whose morphology differs significantly from the rest of the chick basilar papilla. 7. LF units are described whose response to sound is inhibitory at frequencies above 50 Hz.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-95
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1989


  • Basilar papilla
  • Chicken
  • Hearing
  • Infra sound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Physiology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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