Subcortical coding of predictable and unsupervised sound-context associations

Chi Chen, Hugo Cruces-Solís, Alexandra Ertman, Livia de Hoz

Our environment is made of a myriad of stimuli present in combinations often patterned in predictable ways. For example, there is a strong association between where we are and the sounds we hear. Like many environmental patterns, sound-context associations are learned implicitly, in an unsupervised manner, and are highly informative and predictive of normality. Yet, we know little about where and how unsupervised sound-context associations are coded in the brain. Here we measured plasticity in the auditory midbrain of mice living over days in an enriched task-less environment in which entering a context triggered sound with different degrees of predictability. Plasticity in the auditory midbrain, a hub of auditory input and multimodal feedback, developed over days and reflected learning of contextual information in a manner that depended on the predictability of the sound-context association and not on reinforcement. Plasticity manifested as an increase in response gain and tuning shift that correlated with a general increase in neuronal frequency discrimination. Thus, the auditory midbrain is sensitive to unsupervised predictable sound-context associations, revealing a subcortical engagement in the detection of contextual sounds. By increasing frequency resolution, this detection might facilitate the processing of behaviorally relevant foreground information described to occur in cortical auditory structures.

Curr Res Neurobiol. 5:100110 (2023)


auditoryinferior colliculusmousepredictionstatistical learning
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