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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
The representation of acoustic stimuli in the brainstem forms the basis for higher auditory processing. While some characteristics of this representation (e.g. tuning curve) are widely accepted, it remains a challenge to predict the firing rate at high temporal resolution in response to complex stimuli. In this study we explore models for in vivo, single cell responses in the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) under complex sound stimulation. We estimate a family of models, the multilinear models, encompassing the classical spectrotemporal receptive field and allowing arbitrary input-nonlinearities and certain multiplicative interactions between sound energy and its short-term auditory context. We compare these to models of more traditional type, and also evaluate their performance under various stimulus representations. Using the context model, 75% of the explainable variance could be predicted based on a cochlear-like, gamma-tone stimulus representation. The presence of multiplicative contextual interactions strongly reduces certain inhibitory/suppressive regions of the linear kernels, suggesting an underlying nonlinear mechanism, e.g. cochlear or synaptic suppression, as the source of the suppression in MNTB neuronal responses. In conclusion, the context model provides a rich and still interpretable extension over many previous phenomenological models for modeling responses in the auditory brainstem at submillisecond resolution.