Active Engagement Improves Primary Auditory Cortical Neurons' Ability to Discriminate Temporal Modulation

  • Niwa M
  • Johnson J
  • O'Connor K
 et al. 
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The effect of attention on single neuron responses in the auditory system is unresolved. We found that when monkeys discriminated temporally amplitude modulated (AM) from unmodulated sounds, primary auditory cortical (A1) neurons better discriminated those sounds than when the monkeys were not discriminating them. This was observed for both average firing rate and vector strength (VS), a measure of how well neurons temporally follow the stimulus' temporal modulation. When data were separated by nonsynchronized and synchronized responses, the firing rate of nonsynchronized responses best distinguished AM- noise from unmodulated noise, followed by VS for synchronized responses, with firing rate for synchronized neurons providing the poorest AM discrimination. Firing rate-based AM discrimination for synchronized neurons, however, improved most with task engagement, showing that the least sensitive code in the passive condition improves the most with task engagement. Rate coding improved due to larger increases in absolute firing rate at higher modulation depths than for lower depths and unmodulated sounds. Relative to spontaneous activity (which increased with engagement), the response to unmodulated sounds decreased substantially. The temporal coding improvement--responses more precisely temporally following a stimulus when animals were required to attend to it--expands the framework of possible mechanisms of attention to include increasing temporal precision of stimulus following. These findings provide a crucial step to understanding the coding of temporal modulation and support a model in which rate and temporal coding work in parallel, permitting a multiplexed code for temporal modulation, and for a complementary representation of rate and temporal coding.

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  • M. Niwa

  • J. S. Johnson

  • K. N. O'Connor

  • M. L. Sutter

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