Stimulus-specific adaptation to behaviorally-relevant sounds in awake rats

Stimulus-specific adaptation (SSA) is the reduction in responses to a common stimulus that does not generalize, or only partially generalizes, to other stimuli. SSA has been studied mainly with sounds that bear no behavioral meaning. We hypothesized that the acquisition of behavioral meaning by a sound should modify the amount of SSA evoked by that sound. To test this hypothesis, we used fear conditioning in rats, using two word-like stimuli, derived from the English words “danger” and “safety”, as well as pure tones. One stimulus (CS+) was associated with a foot shock whereas the other stimulus (CS-) was presented without a concomitant foot shock. We recorded neural responses to the auditory stimuli telemetrically, using chronically implanted multi-electrode arrays in freely moving animals before and after conditioning. Consistent with our hypothesis, SSA changed in a way that depended on the behavioral role of the sound: the contrast between standard and deviant responses remained the same or decreased for CS+ stimuli but increased for CS- stimuli, showing that SSA is shaped by experience. In most cases the sensory responses underlying these changes in SSA increased following conditioning. Unexpectedly, the responses to CS+ word-like stimuli showed a specific, large decrease, which we interpret as evidence for substantial inhibitory plasticity.

Authors: Yaron A, Jankowski MM, Badrieh R, Nelken I
Year of publication: 2020
Journal: PLoS ONE 15(3): e0221541

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