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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2010 Feb;93(2):229-39. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2009.10.003. Epub 2009 Oct 21.

Learning strategy trumps motivational level in determining learning-induced 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 92697-3800, United States.


Associative memory for auditory-cued events involves specific plasticity in the primary auditory cortex (A1) that facilitates responses to tones which gain behavioral significance, by modifying representational parameters of sensory coding. Learning strategy, rather than the amount or content of learning, can determine this learning-induced cortical (high order) associative representational plasticity (HARP). Thus, tone-contingent learning with signaled errors can be accomplished either by (1) responding only during tone duration ("tone-duration" strategy, T-Dur), or (2) responding from tone onset until receiving an error signal for responses made immediately after tone offset ("tone-onset-to-error", TOTE). While rats using both strategies achieve the same high level of performance, only those using the TOTE strategy develop HARP, viz., frequency-specific decreased threshold (increased sensitivity) and decreased bandwidth (increased selectivity) (Berlau & Weinberger, 2008). The present study challenged the generality of learning strategy by determining if high motivation dominates in the formation of HARP. Two groups of adult male rats were trained to bar-press during a 5.0kHz (10s, 70dB) tone for a water reward under either high (HiMot) or moderate (ModMot) levels of motivation. The HiMot group achieved a higher level of correct performance. However, terminal mapping of A1 showed that only the ModMot group developed HARP, i.e., increased sensitivity and selectivity in the signal-frequency band. Behavioral analysis revealed that the ModMot group used the TOTE strategy while HiMot subjects used the T-Dur strategy. Thus, type of learning strategy, not level of learning or motivation, is dominant for the formation of cortical plasticity.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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