Learning-dependent cortical encoding has been well described in single neurons. But behaviorally relevant sensory signals drive the coordinated activity of millions of cortical neurons; whether learning produces stimulus-specific changes in population codes is unknown. Because the pattern of firing rate correlations between neurons--an emergent property of neural populations--can significantly impact encoding fidelity, we hypothesize that it is a target for learning. Using an associative learning procedure, we manipulated the behavioral relevance of natural acoustic signals and examined the evoked spiking activity in auditory cortical neurons in songbirds. We show that learning produces stimulus-specific changes in the pattern of interneuronal correlations that enhance the ability of neural populations to recognize signals relevant for behavior. This learning-dependent enhancement increases with population size. The results identify the pattern of interneuronal correlation in neural populations as a target of learning that can selectively enhance the representations of specific sensory signals.
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