Associative learning induces plasticity in the representation of sensory information in sensory cortices. Such high-order associative representational plasticity (HARP) in the primary auditory cortex (A1) is a likely substrate of auditory memory: it is specific, rapidly acquired, long-lasting and consolidates. Because HARP is likely to support the detailed content of memory, it is important to identify the necessary behavioral factors that dictate its induction. Learning strategy is a critical factor for the induction of plasticity (Bieszczad & Weinberger, 2010b). Specifically, use of a strategy that relies on tone onsets induces HARP in A1 in the form of signal-specific decreased threshold and bandwidth. The present study tested the hypothesis that the form and degree of HARP in A1 reflects the amount of use of an "onset strategy". Adult male rats (n=7) were trained in a protocol that increased the use of this strategy from approximately 20% in prior studies to approximately 80%. They developed signal-specific gains in representational area, transcending plasticity in the form of local changes in threshold and bandwidth. Furthermore, the degree of area gain was proportional to the amount of use of the onset strategy. A second complementary experiment demonstrated that use of a learning strategy that specifically did not rely on tone onsets did not produce gains in representational area; but rather produced area loss. Together, the findings indicate that the amount of strategy use is a dominant factor for the induction of learning-induced cortical plasticity along a continuum of both form and degree.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.