Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 197, Issue 5, pp 571–583 | Cite as

Duration tuning in the auditory midbrain of echolocating and non-echolocating vertebrates

  • Riziq Sayegh
  • Brandon Aubie
  • Paul A. FaureEmail author


Neurons tuned for stimulus duration were first discovered in the auditory midbrain of frogs. Duration-tuned neurons (DTNs) have since been reported from the central auditory system of both echolocating and non-echolocating mammals, and from the central visual system of cats. We hypothesize that the functional significance of auditory duration tuning likely varies between species with different evolutionary histories, sensory ecologies, and bioacoustic constraints. For example, in non-echolocating animals such as frogs and mice the temporal filtering properties of auditory DTNs may function to discriminate species-specific communication sounds. In echolocating bats duration tuning may also be used to create cells with highly selective responses for specific rates of frequency modulation and/or pulse-echo delays. The ability to echolocate appears to have selected for high temporal acuity in the duration tuning curves of inferior colliculus neurons in bats. Our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying sound duration selectivity has improved substantially since DTNs were first discovered almost 50 years ago, but additional research is required for a comprehensive understanding of the functional role and the behavioral significance that duration tuning plays in sensory systems.


Audition Duration selectivity Echolocation Neurophysiology Temporal processing 



Auditory cortex


Constant frequency


Central nervous system


Duration-tuned neuron


Frequency modulation


Inferior colliculus


Medial geniculate body


Offset-evoked excitation


Onset-evoked excitation


Pure tone


Sound pressure level


Sustained onset-evoked inhibition


Torus semicircularis



Gerhard Neuweiler had a profound influence on the field of bat echolocation as evidenced both by the quality of research and outstanding scientists stemming from his laboratory. PAF wishes he had met Professor Neuweiler. Research supported by a Discovery Grant (PAF) and a Canada Graduate Scholarship (BA) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. The McMaster Bat Lab is also supported by infrastructure grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Innovation Trust. Research approved by the McMaster University Animal Research Ethics Board, and in accordance with the Canadian Council on Animal Care.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & BehaviourMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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