Rapid Task-Related Plasticity of Spectrotemporal Receptive Fields in the Auditory Midbrain

Sean J. Slee, Stephen V. David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has demonstrated that auditory cortical neurons can modify their receptive fields when animals engage in auditory detection tasks. We tested for this form of task-related plasticity in the inferior colliculus (IC) of ferrets trained to detect a pure tone target in a sequence of noise distractors that did not overlap in time. During behavior, responses were suppressed at the target tone frequency in approximately half of IC neurons relative to the passive state. This suppression often resulted from a combination of a local tuning change and a global change in overall excitability. Local and global suppression were stronger when the target frequency was aligned to neuronal best frequency. Local suppression in the IC was indistinguishable from that described previously in auditory cortex, while global suppression was unique to the IC. The results demonstrate that engaging in an auditory task can change selectivity for task-relevant features in the midbrain, an area where these effects have not been reported previously. Significance statement: Previous studies have demonstrated that the receptive fields of cortical neurons are modified when animals engage in auditory behaviors, a process that is hypothesized to provide the basis for segregating sound sources in an auditory scene. This study demonstrates for the first time that receptive fields of neurons in the midbrain inferior colliculus are also modified during behavior. The magnitude of the tuning changes is similar to previous reports in cortex. These results support a hierarchical model of behaviorally driven sound segregation that begins in the subcortical auditory network.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13090-13102
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 23 2015


  • attention
  • auditory
  • behavior
  • inferior colliculus
  • plasticity
  • STRF

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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