Animals are not passive spectators of the sensory world in which they live. In natural conditions they often sense objects on the bases of expectations initiated by predictive cues. Expectation profoundly modulates neural activity by altering the background state of cortical networks and modulating sensory processing. The link between these two effects is not known. Here, we studied how cue-triggered expectation of stimulus availability influences processing of sensory stimuli in the gustatory cortex (GC). We found that expected tastants were coded more rapidly than unexpected stimuli. The faster onset of sensory coding related to anticipatory priming of GC by associative auditory cues. Simultaneous recordings and pharmacological manipulations of GC and basolateral amygdala revealed the role of top-down inputs in mediating the effects of anticipatory cues. Altogether, these data provide a model for how cue-triggered expectation changes the state of sensory cortices to achieve rapid processing of natural stimuli.
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