Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 186, Issue 5, pp 413–423

The function of the medial superior olive in small mammals: temporal receptive fields in auditory analysis

  • B. Grothe
  • G. Neuweiler

DOI: 10.1007/s003590050441

Cite this article as:
Grothe, B. & Neuweiler, G. J Comp Physiol A (2000) 186: 413. doi:10.1007/s003590050441


Traditionally, the medial superior olive, a mammalian auditory brainstem structure, is considered to encode interaural time differences, the main cue for localizing low-frequency sounds. Detection of binaural excitatory and inhibitory inputs are considered as an underlying mechanism. Most small mammals, however, hear high frequencies well beyond 50 kHz and have small interaural distances. Therefore, they can not use interaural time differences for sound localization and yet possess a medial superior olive. Physiological studies in bats revealed that medial superior olive cells show similar interaural time difference coding as in larger mammals tuned to low-frequency hearing. Their interaural time difference sensitivity, however, is far too coarse to serve in sound localization. Thus, interaural time difference sensitivity in medial superior olive of small mammals is an epiphenomenon. We propose that the original function of the medial superior olive is a binaural cooperation causing facilitation due to binaural excitation. Lagging inhibitory inputs, however, suppress reverberations and echoes from the acoustic background. Thereby, generation of antagonistically organized temporal fields is the basic and original function of the mammalian medial superior olive. Only later in evolution with the advent of larger mammals did interaural distances, and hence interaural time differences, became large enough to be used as cues for sound localization of low-frequency stimuli.

Key words Medial superior oliveInteraural timedifferenceReceptive fieldPrecedence effectTemporal processing

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. Grothe
    • 1
  • G. Neuweiler
    • 1
  1. 1.Zoological Institute of Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Luisenstrasse 14, D-80333 München, Germany e-mail: Fax: +49-89-5902450DE