Harmonic-sensitive neurons in the auditory cortex of the mustache bat

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Science  19 Jan 1979:
Vol. 203, Issue 4377, pp. 270-274
DOI: 10.1126/science.760193


Human speech and animal sounds contain phonemes with prominent and meaningful harmonics. The biosonar signals of the mustache bat also contain up to four harmonics, and each consists of a long constant-frequency component followed by a short frequency-modulated component. Neurons have been found in a large cluster within auditory cortex of this bat whose responses are facilitated by combinations of two or more harmonically related tones. Moreover, the best frequencies for excitation of these neurons are closely associated with the constant-frequency components of the biosonar signals. The properties of these neurons make them well suited for identifying the signals produced by other echolocating mustache bats. They also show how meaningful components of sound are assembled by neural circuits in the central nervous system and suggest a method by which sounds with important harmonics (or formants) may be detected and recognized by the brain in other species, including humans.