For complex communication signals, it is often difficult to identify the information-bearing elements and their parameters necessary to elicit functional behavior. Consequently, it may be difficult to design stimuli that test how neurons contribute to communicative processing. For túngara frogs (Physalaemus pustulosus), however, previous behavioral testing with numerous stimuli showed that a particular frequency modulated (FM) transition in the male call is required to elicit phonotaxis and vocal responses. Modeled on such behavioral experiments, we used awake in vivo recordings of single units in the midbrain to determine if their excitation was biased to behaviorally important FM parameters. Comparisons of stimulus driven action potentials revealed greatest excitation to the behaviorally important FM transition: a downward FM sweep or step that crosses ~600 Hz. Previous studies using long-duration acoustic exposure found immediate early gene expression in many midbrain neurons to be most sensitive to similar FM. However, those data could not determine if FM coding was accomplished by the population and/or individual neurons. Our data suggest both coding schemes could operate, as 1) individual neurons are more sensitive to the behaviorally significant FM transition and 2) when single unit recordings are analytically combined across cells, the combined code can produce high stimulus discrimination (FM vs. noise driven excitation), approaching that found in behavioral discrimination of call vs. noise.
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Ponnath, Abhilash; Ryan, Michael J.; Fang, Zhide; and Farris, Hamilton E., "Tuned In To Communication Sounds: Neuronal Sensitivity In The Túngara Frog Midbrain To Frequency Modulated Signals" (2022). School of Public Health Faculty Publications. 135.