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Nature. 1997 Jun 26;387(6636):900-3.

Corticofugal modulation of frequency processing in bat auditory system.

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Department of Biology, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


Auditory signals are transmitted from the inner ear through the brainstem to the higher auditory regions of the brain. Neurons throughout the auditory system are tuned to stimulus frequency, and in many auditory regions are arranged in topographical maps with respect to their preferred frequency. These properties are assumed to arise from the interactions of convergent and divergent projections ascending from lower to higher auditory areas; such a view, however, ignores the possible role of descending projections from cortical to subcortical regions. In the bat auditory system, such corticofugal connections modulate neuronal activity to improve the processing of echo-delay information, a specialized feature. Here we show that corticofugal projections are also involved in the most common type of auditory processing, frequency tuning. When cortical neurons tuned to a specific frequency are inactivated, the auditory responses of subcortical neurons tuned to the same frequency are reduced. Moreover, the responses of other subcortical neurons tuned to different frequencies are increased, and their preferred frequencies are shifted towards that of the inactivated cortical neurons. Thus the corticofugal system mediates a positive feedback which, in combination with widespread lateral inhibition, sharpens and adjusts the tuning of neurons at earlier stages in the auditory processing pathway.

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