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Hear Res. 2005 Aug;206(1-2):159-76.

Active listening: task-dependent plasticity of spectrotemporal receptive fields in primary auditory cortex.

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Centre for Auditory and Acoustic Research, University of Maryland College Park, MD 20742, USA.


Listening is an active process in which attentive focus on salient acoustic features in auditory tasks can influence receptive field properties of cortical neurons. Recent studies showing rapid task-related changes in neuronal spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs) in primary auditory cortex of the behaving ferret are reviewed in the context of current research on cortical plasticity. Ferrets were trained on spectral tasks, including tone detection and two-tone discrimination, and on temporal tasks, including gap detection and click-rate discrimination. STRF changes could be measured on-line during task performance and occurred within minutes of task onset. During spectral tasks, there were specific spectral changes (enhanced response to tonal target frequency in tone detection and discrimination, suppressed response to tonal reference frequency in tone discrimination). However, only in the temporal tasks, the STRF was changed along the temporal dimension by sharpening temporal dynamics. In ferrets trained on multiple tasks, distinctive and task-specific STRF changes could be observed in the same cortical neurons in successive behavioral sessions. These results suggest that rapid task-related plasticity is an ongoing process that occurs at a network and single unit level as the animal switches between different tasks and dynamically adapts cortical STRFs in response to changing acoustic demands.

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