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Cereb Cortex. 2007 Aug;17(8):1867-76. Epub 2006 Oct 19.

Tracking short-term auditory cortical plasticity during classical conditioning using frequency-tagged stimuli.

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Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, Germany.


Animal studies indicate that short-term plasticity during classical conditioning is a fast process. The temporal details of this process in humans are unknown. We employed amplitude-modulated tones in order to elicit the steady-state field (SSF). Conditioned stimulus (CS+) and CS- had a common low carrier frequency, however, differed in their high-frequency component. Low and high frequencies within one tone were modulated at 29 and 45 Hz, respectively. Mean fast Fourier transformation analysis of each single trial allowed extraction of the cortical response to these modulation frequencies, allowing to track cortical responses trial by trial. Mutilation pictures were used as unconditioned stimulus. Furthermore, heart rate and contingency awareness were assessed. Our main findings are the following: 1) A rapid (within 5 trials) enhancement of the amplitude of the high frequencies in contrast to the low frequency, while the high frequencies differentiated later (toward end of acquisition). This partially replicates rapid plasticity as shown before in animals. 2) Those participants who were less aware of the stimulus contingencies showed a relative heart rate acceleration and greater SSF increase to the CS+. This could possibly imply a stronger early amygdala activation in these participants, which then mediates the development of conditioning-related reorganization in auditory cortical areas.

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