Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 36373184
Link to DOI – 10.1113/JP283526
J Physiol 2023 Jan; 601(1): 123-149
Humans and animals constantly face challenging acoustic environments, such as various background noises, that impair the detection, discrimination and identification of behaviourally relevant sounds. Here, we disentangled the role of temporal envelope tracking in the reduction in neuronal and behavioural discrimination between communication sounds in situations of acoustic degradations. By collecting neuronal activity from six different levels of the auditory system, from the auditory nerve up to the secondary auditory cortex, in anaesthetized guinea-pigs, we found that tracking of slow changes of the temporal envelope is a general functional property of auditory neurons for encoding communication sounds in quiet conditions and in adverse, challenging conditions. Results from a go/no-go sound discrimination task in mice support the idea that the loss of distinct slow envelope cues in noisy conditions impacted the discrimination performance. Together, these results suggest that envelope tracking is potentially a universal mechanism operating in the central auditory system, which allows the detection of any between-stimulus difference in the slow envelope and thus copes with degraded conditions. KEY POINTS: In quiet conditions, envelope tracking in the low amplitude modulation range (<20 Hz) is correlated with the neuronal discrimination between communication sounds as quantified by mutual information from the cochlear nucleus up to the auditory cortex. At each level of the auditory system, auditory neurons retain their abilities to track the communication sound envelopes in situations of acoustic degradation, such as vocoding and the addition of masking noises up to a signal-to-noise ratio of -10 dB. In noisy conditions, the increase in between-stimulus envelope similarity explains the reduction in both behavioural and neuronal discrimination in the auditory system. Envelope tracking can be viewed as a universal mechanism that allows neural and behavioural discrimination as long as the temporal envelope of communication sounds displays some differences.