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J Neurosci. 2008 Feb 6;28(6):1523-33. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3785-07.2008.

Stimulus-specific adaptations in the gaze control system of the barn owl.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, The Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, The Technion, Haifa 31096, Israel.


Abrupt orientation to novel stimuli is a critical, memory-dependent task performed by the brain. In the present study, we examined two gaze control centers of the barn owl: the optic tectum (OT) and the arcopallium gaze fields (AGFs). Responses of neurons to long sequences of dichotic sound bursts comprised of two sounds differing in the probability of appearance were analyzed. We report that auditory neurons in the OT and in the AGFs tend to respond stronger to rarely presented sounds (novel sounds) than to the same sounds when presented frequently. This history-dependent phenomenon, known as stimulus-specific adaptation (SSA), was demonstrated for rare sound frequencies, binaural localization cues [interaural time difference (ITD) and level difference (ILD)] and sound amplitudes. The manifestation of SSA in such a variety of independent acoustic features, in the midbrain and in the forebrain, supports the notion that SSA is involved in sensory memory and novelty detection. To track the origin of SSA, we analyzed responses of neurons in the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICX; the source of auditory input to the OT) to similar sequences of sound bursts. Neurons in the ICX responded stronger to rare sound frequencies, but did not respond differently to rare ITDs, ILDs, or sound amplitudes. We hypothesize that part of the SSA reported here is computed in high-level networks, giving rise to novelty signals that modulate tectal responses in a context-dependent manner.

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