The role of sensory cortex in behavioral flexibility

Neuroscience. 2017 Mar 14;345:3-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.03.067. Epub 2016 Apr 8.


To thrive in a changing environment, organisms evolved strategies for rapidly modifying their behavioral responses to sensory stimuli. In this review, we investigate the role of sensory cortical circuits in these flexible behaviors. First, we provide a framework for classifying tasks in which flexibility is required. We then present studies in animal models which demonstrate that responses of sensory cortical neurons depend on the expected outcome associated with a stimulus. Last, we discuss inactivation studies which indicate that sensory cortex facilitates behavioral flexibility, but is not always required for adapting to changes in environmental conditions. This analysis provides insights into the contributions of cortical and subcortical sensory circuits to flexibility in behavior.

Keywords: attentional set shifting; extinction; reversal learning; reward; sensory cortex; sensory thalamus.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology