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Author Notes:

To whom correspondence should be addressed: Robert C. Liu, Department of Biology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America. Email: rliu2@emory.edu.

Author contributions: RCL and CES conceived and designed the experiments and wrote the paper.

RCL performed the experiments and analyzed the data.

We thank M. M. Merzenich for laboratory support, J. F. Linden for helpful comments on the manuscript, and anonymous reviewers for their insightful suggestions.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Research Funding:

Funding has been provided by a Sloan and Swartz Foundation fellowship (RCL at UCSF); National Institutes of Health (NIH) fellowship F32 DC05279 (RCL at UCSF); the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience under the Science and Technology Program of the National Science Foundation under agreement number IBN-9876754; and NIH grants DC08343 (RCL at Emory), DC02260, NS34835, and MH077970 (CES).

Auditory Cortical Detection and Discrimination Correlates with Communicative Significance


Journal Title:

PLoS Biology


Volume 5, Number 7


, Pages e173-e173

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


Plasticity studies suggest that behavioral relevance can change the cortical processing of trained or conditioned sensory stimuli. However, whether this occurs in the context of natural communication, where stimulus significance is acquired through social interaction, has not been well investigated, perhaps because neural responses to species-specific vocalizations can be difficult to interpret within a systematic framework. The ultrasonic communication system between isolated mouse pups and adult females that either do or do not recognize the calls' significance provides an opportunity to explore this issue. We applied an information-based analysis to multi- and single unit data collected from anesthetized mothers and pup-naïve females to quantify how the communicative significance of pup calls affects their encoding in the auditory cortex. The timing and magnitude of information that cortical responses convey (at a 2-ms resolution) for pup call detection and discrimination was significantly improved in mothers compared to naïve females, most likely because of changes in call frequency encoding. This was not the case for a non-natural sound ensemble outside the mouse vocalization repertoire. The results demonstrate that a sensory cortical change in the timing code for communication sounds is correlated with the vocalizations' behavioral relevance, potentially enhancing functional processing by improving its signal to noise ratio.

Copyright information:

© 2007 Liu and Schreiner.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

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