Anesthetic State Modulates Excitability but Not Spectral Tuning or Neural Discrimination in Single Auditory Midbrain Neurons

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Aug;106(2):500-14. doi: 10.1152/jn.01072.2010. Epub 2011 May 4.


The majority of sensory physiology experiments have used anesthesia to facilitate the recording of neural activity. Current techniques allow researchers to study sensory function in the context of varying behavioral states. To reconcile results across multiple behavioral and anesthetic states, it is important to consider how and to what extent anesthesia plays a role in shaping neural response properties. The role of anesthesia has been the subject of much debate, but the extent to which sensory coding properties are altered by anesthesia has yet to be fully defined. In this study we asked how urethane, an anesthetic commonly used for avian and mammalian sensory physiology, affects the coding of complex communication vocalizations (songs) and simple artificial stimuli in the songbird auditory midbrain. We measured spontaneous and song-driven spike rates, spectrotemporal receptive fields, and neural discriminability from responses to songs in single auditory midbrain neurons. In the same neurons, we recorded responses to pure tone stimuli ranging in frequency and intensity. Finally, we assessed the effect of urethane on population-level representations of birdsong. Results showed that intrinsic neural excitability is significantly depressed by urethane but that spectral tuning, single neuron discriminability, and population representations of song do not differ significantly between unanesthetized and anesthetized animals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Anesthetics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / drug effects
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Chloral Hydrate / pharmacology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / drug effects
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Finches
  • Magnesium Sulfate / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pentobarbital / pharmacology
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Anesthetics
  • chloropent
  • Chloral Hydrate
  • Magnesium Sulfate
  • Pentobarbital