5 years ago

Top-down modulation of sensory cortex gates perceptual learning [Neuroscience]

Top-down modulation of sensory cortex gates perceptual learning [Neuroscience]
Dan H. Sanes, Melissa L. Caras

Practice sharpens our perceptual judgments, a process known as perceptual learning. Although several brain regions and neural mechanisms have been proposed to support perceptual learning, formal tests of causality are lacking. Furthermore, the temporal relationship between neural and behavioral plasticity remains uncertain. To address these issues, we recorded the activity of auditory cortical neurons as gerbils trained on a sound detection task. Training led to improvements in cortical and behavioral sensitivity that were closely matched in terms of magnitude and time course. Surprisingly, the degree of neural improvement was behaviorally gated. During task performance, cortical improvements were large and predicted behavioral outcomes. In contrast, during nontask listening sessions, cortical improvements were weak and uncorrelated with perceptual performance. Targeted reduction of auditory cortical activity during training diminished perceptual learning while leaving psychometric performance largely unaffected. Collectively, our findings suggest that training facilitates perceptual learning by strengthening both bottom-up sensory encoding and top-down modulation of auditory cortex.

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