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J Neurosci. 2011 Apr 6;31(14):5383-91. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6137-10.2011.

The cost and benefit of juvenile training on adult perceptual skill.

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Center for Neural Science and Department of Biology, New York University, New York, New York 10003, USA.


Sensory experience during development can modify the CNS and alter adult perceptual skills. While this principle draws support from deprivation or chronic stimulus exposure studies, the effect of training is addressed only in adults. Here, we asked whether a brief period of training during development can exert a unique impact on adult perceptual skills. Juvenile gerbils were trained to detect amplitude modulation (AM), a stimulus feature elemental to animal communication sounds. When the performance of these juvenile-trained animals was subsequently assessed in adulthood, it was superior to a control group that received an identical regimen of training as adults. The juvenile-trained animals displayed significantly better AM detection thresholds. This was not observed in an adult group that received only exposure to AM stimuli as juveniles. To determine whether enhanced adult performance was due solely to learning the conditioned avoidance procedure, juveniles were trained on frequency modulation (FM) detection, and subsequently assessed on AM detection as adults. These animals displayed significantly poorer AM detection thresholds than all other groups. Thus, training on a specific auditory task (AM detection) during development provided a benefit to performance on that task in adulthood, whereas an identical training regimen in adulthood did not bring about this enhancement. In contrast, there was a cost, in adulthood, following developmental training on a different task (FM detection). Together, the results demonstrate a period of heightened sensitivity in the developing CNS such that behavioral training in juveniles has a unique impact on adult behavioral capabilities.

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