A role for maternal physiological state in preserving auditory cortical plasticity for salient infant calls

Neuroscience. 2013 Sep 5:247:102-16. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.05.020. Epub 2013 May 21.


A growing interest in sensory system plasticity in the natural context of motherhood has created the need to investigate how intrinsic physiological state (e.g., hormonal, motivational, etc.) interacts with sensory experience to drive adaptive cortical plasticity for behaviorally relevant stimuli. Using a maternal mouse model of auditory cortical inhibitory plasticity for ultrasonic pup calls, we examined the role of pup care versus maternal physiological state in the long-term retention of this plasticity. Very recent experience caring for pups by Early Cocarers, which are virgins, produced stronger call-evoked lateral-band inhibition in auditory cortex. However, this plasticity was absent when measured post-weaning in Cocarers, even though it was present at the same time point in Mothers, whose pup experience occurred under a maternal physiological state. A two-alternative choice phonotaxis task revealed that the same animal groups (Early Cocarers and Mothers) demonstrating stronger lateral-band inhibition also preferred pup calls over a neutral sound, a correlation consistent with the hypothesis that this inhibitory mechanism may play a mnemonic role and is engaged to process sounds that are particularly salient. Our electrophysiological data hint at a possible mechanism through which the maternal physiological state may act to preserve the cortical plasticity: selectively suppressing detrimental spontaneous activity in neurons that are responsive to calls, an effect observed only in Mothers. Taken together, the maternal physiological state during the care of pups may help maintain the memory trace of behaviorally salient infant cues within core auditory cortex, potentially ensuring a more rapid induction of future maternal behavior.

Keywords: A1; AAF; ABRs; Auditory Brainstem Responses; BF; CC; FIR; Finite Impulse Response; LFP; LSD; PSTH; RMS; SU; UF; anterior auditory field; auditory cortex; best frequency; correlation coefficient; inhibitory plasticity; least significant difference; local field potential; maternal behavior; peri-stimulus time histogram; primary auditory field; root mean square; sensory plasticity; single unit; spontaneous rate; ultrasound field; vocalization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*