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Hear Res. 2007 Jul;229(1-2):54-68. Epub 2007 Jan 17.

Auditory associative memory and representational plasticity in the primary auditory cortex.

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


Historically, the primary auditory cortex has been largely ignored as a substrate of auditory memory, perhaps because studies of associative learning could not reveal the plasticity of receptive fields (RFs). The use of a unified experimental design, in which RFs are obtained before and after standard training (e.g., classical and instrumental conditioning) revealed associative representational plasticity, characterized by facilitation of responses to tonal conditioned stimuli (CSs) at the expense of other frequencies, producing CS-specific tuning shifts. Associative representational plasticity (ARP) possesses the major attributes of associative memory: it is highly specific, discriminative, rapidly acquired, consolidates over hours and days and can be retained indefinitely. The nucleus basalis cholinergic system is sufficient both for the induction of ARP and for the induction of specific auditory memory, including control of the amount of remembered acoustic details. Extant controversies regarding the form, function and neural substrates of ARP appear largely to reflect different assumptions, which are explicitly discussed. The view that the forms of plasticity are task dependent is supported by ongoing studies in which auditory learning involves CS-specific decreases in threshold or bandwidth without affecting frequency tuning. Future research needs to focus on the factors that determine ARP and their functions in hearing and in auditory memory.

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