Sounds in real-world situations seldom occur in isolation. In spite of this, most studies in the auditory system have employed sounds that serve to isolate physiological responses, namely, at low rates of stimulation. It is unclear, however, whether the basic response properties of a neuron derived thereof such as its amplitude and frequency selectivities, are applicable to real-world situations where sounds occur in rapid succession. In the present study, we investigated one of the basic response properties of neurons in the bat inferior colliculus (IC), i.e., the rate-level function, to tone pulses in three different configurations: individual tone pulses of constant amplitude at different rates of stimulation, random-amplitude pulse trains, and dynamic-amplitude-modulated pulse trains the temporal pattern of which was similar to what bats encounter in a behavioral context. We reported that for the majority of IC neurons, amplitude selectivity to tone pulses was dependent on the rate of stimulation. In general, the selectivity was greater at high rates or in a behavioral context than at low rates. For a small population of IC neurons, however, the rate of stimulation had little or no effect on their rate-level functions. Thus for IC neurons, responses to sounds presented at low rates may or may not be used to predict the responses to the same stimuli presented at high rates or in a behavioral context. The possible neural mechanisms underlying the rate-dependent effects are discussed.
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