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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 1998 Jul-Sep;70(1-2):226-51.

Physiological memory in primary auditory cortex: characteristics and mechanisms.

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Department of Psychobiology, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California 92697-3800, USA.


"Physiological memory" is enduring neuronal change sufficiently specific to represent learned information. It transcends both sensory traces that are detailed but transient and long-term physiological plasticities that are insufficiently specific to actually represent cardinal details of an experience. The specificity of most physiological plasticities has not been comprehensively studied. We adopted receptive field analysis from sensory physiology to seek physiological memory in the primary auditory cortex of adult guinea pigs. Receptive fields for acoustic frequency were determined before and at various retention intervals after a learning experience, typified by single-tone delay classical conditioning, e.g., 30 trials of tone-shock pairing. Subjects rapidly (5-10 trials) acquire behavioral fear conditioned responses, indexing acquisition of an association between the conditioned and the unconditioned stimuli. Such stimulus-stimulus association produces receptive field plasticity in which responses to the conditioned stimulus frequency are increased in contrast to responses to other frequencies which are decreased, resulting in a shift of tuning toward or to the frequency of the conditioned stimulus. This receptive field plasticity is associative, highly specific, acquired within a few trials, and retained indefinitely (tested to 8 weeks). It thus meets criteria for "physiological memory." The acquired importance of the conditioned stimulus is thought to be represented by the increase in tuning to this stimulus during learning, both within cells and across the primary auditory cortex. Further, receptive field plasticity develops in several tasks, one-tone and two-tone discriminative classical and instrumental conditioning (habituation produces a frequency-specific decrease in the receptive field), suggesting it as a general process for representing the acquired meaning of a signal stimulus. We have proposed a two-stage model involving convergence of the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli in the magnocellular medial geniculate of the thalamus followed by activation of the nucleus basalis, which in turn releases acetylcholine that engages muscarinic receptors in the auditory cortex. This model is supported by several recent findings. For example, tone paired with NB stimulation induces associative, specific receptive field plasticity of at least a 24-h duration. We propose that physiological memory in auditory cortex is not "procedural" memory, i.e., is not tied to any behavioral conditioned response, but can be used flexibly.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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