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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2008 Feb;89(2):153-66. Epub 2007 Aug 17.

Learning strategy determines auditory cortical plasticity.

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  • 1Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Irvine, CA 92797-3800, USA.


Learning modifies the primary auditory cortex (A1) to emphasize the processing and representation of behaviorally relevant sounds. However, the factors that determine cortical plasticity are poorly understood. While the type and amount of learning are assumed to be important, the actual strategies used to solve learning problems might be critical. To investigate this possibility, we trained two groups of adult male Sprague-Dawley rats to bar-press (BP) for water contingent on the presence of a 5.0 kHz tone using two different strategies: BP during tone presence or BP from tone-onset until receiving an error signal after tone cessation. Both groups achieved the same high levels of correct performance and both groups revealed equivalent learning of absolute frequency during training. Post-training terminal "mapping" of A1 showed no change in representational area of the tone signal frequency but revealed other substantial cue-specific plasticity that developed only in the tone-onset-to-error strategy group. Threshold was decreased approximately 10 dB and tuning bandwidth was narrowed by approximately 0.7 octaves. As sound onsets have greater perceptual weighting and cortical discharge efficacy than continual sound presence, the induction of specific learning-induced cortical plasticity may depend on the use of learning strategies that best exploit cortical proclivities. The present results also suggest a general principle for the induction and storage of plasticity in learning, viz., that the representation of specific acquired information may be selected by neurons according to a match between behaviorally selected stimulus features and circuit/network response properties.

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