Author's School

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Author's Department/Program

Biomedical Engineering


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Dennis Barbour


The primary auditory cortex: A1) in mammals is one of the first areas in the neocortex that receives auditory related spiking activity from the thalamus. Because the neocortex is implicated in regulating high-level brain phenomena, such as attention and perception, it is therefore important in regards to these high-level behaviors to understand how sounds are represented and transformed by neuronal circuits in this area. The topographic organization of neuronal responses to auditory features in A1 provides evidence for potential mechanisms and functional roles of this neural circuitry. This dissertation presents results from models of topographic organization supporting the notion that if the topographic organization of frequency responses, termed tonotopy or cochleotopy, is aligned along the longest anatomical line segment in A1, as supported by some physiological studies, then it is unlikely that any other topography is mapped monotonically along the orthogonal axis. Thresholds of neuronal responses to sound intensity level represent a particular feature that may have a local, highly periodic topography and that is vital to the sensitivity of the auditory system. The neuronal representation of sound level in A1, particularly as it relates to encoding accuracy, contains a distribution of neurons with varying amounts of inhibition at high sound levels. Neurons with large amounts of this high-level inhibition are described as nonmonotonic or level-tuned. This dissertation presents evidence from single neuron recordings in A1 that neurons exhibiting greater high-level inhibition also exhibit lower neuronal thresholds and that lower thresholds in these nonmonotonic neurons are preserved even when much of the neuronal population is adapted for accurately encoding more intense sounds. Evidence presented in this dissertation also suggests that nonmonotonic neurons have transient responses to time-varying: dynamic) level stimuli that adapt more quickly in response to low-level sounds than those of monotonic neurons. Together these results imply that under static, steady-state-dynamic and transient-dynamic sound level conditions, nonmonotonic neurons are specialized encoders of less intense sounds that allow the auditory system to maintain sensitivity under a variety of environmental conditions.


Permanent URL: