Plasticity in the Primary Auditory Cortex, Not What You Think it is: Implications for Basic and Clinical Auditory Neuroscience

Otolaryngol (Sunnyvale). 2012 Mar 12;Suppl 3:002. doi: 10.4172/2161-119X.S3-002.


Standard beliefs that the function of the primary auditory cortex (A1) is the analysis of sound have proven to be incorrect. Its involvement in learning, memory and other complex processes in both animals and humans is now well-established, although often not appreciated. Auditory coding is strongly modifed by associative learning, evident as associative representational plasticity (ARP) in which the representation of an acoustic dimension, like frequency, is re-organized to emphasize a sound that has become behaviorally important. For example, the frequency tuning of a cortical neuron can be shifted to match that of a significant sound and the representational area of sounds that acquire behavioral importance can be increased. ARP depends on the learning strategy used to solve an auditory problem and the increased cortical area confers greater strength of auditory memory. Thus, primary auditory cortex is involved in cognitive processes, transcending its assumed function of auditory stimulus analysis. The implications for basic neuroscience and clinical auditory neuroscience are presented and suggestions for remediation of auditory processing disorders are introduced.

Keywords: Acetylcholine; Cognitive processes; Learning; Learning strategy; Memory code; Receptive field.