by Fatemeh Khatami, Monty A. Escabí
The auditory neural code is resilient to acoustic variability and capable of recognizing sounds amongst competing sound sources, yet, the transformations enabling noise robust abilities are largely unknown. We report that a hierarchical spiking neural network (HSNN) optimized to maximize word recognition accuracy in noise and multiple talkers predicts organizational hierarchy of the ascending auditory pathway. Comparisons with data from auditory nerve, midbrain, thalamus and cortex reveals that the optimal HSSN predicts several transformations of the ascending auditory pathway including a sequential loss of temporal resolution and synchronization ability, increasing sparseness, and selectivity. The optimal organizational scheme enhances performance by selectively filtering out noise and fast temporal cues such as voicing periodicity, that are not directly relevant to the word recognition task. An identical network arranged to enable high information transfer fails to predict auditory pathway organization and has substantially poorer performance. Furthermore, conventional single-layer linear and nonlinear receptive field networks that capture the overall feature extraction of the HSNN fail to achieve similar performance. The findings suggest that the auditory pathway hierarchy and its sequential nonlinear feature extraction computations enhance relevant cues while removing non-informative sources of noise, thus enhancing the representation of sounds in noise impoverished conditions.