Fine Control of Sound Frequency Tuning and Frequency Discrimination Acuity by Synaptic Zinc Signaling in Mouse Auditory Cortex

J Neurosci. 2019 Jan 30;39(5):854-865. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1339-18.2018. Epub 2018 Nov 30.


Neurons in the auditory cortex are tuned to specific ranges of sound frequencies. Although the cellular and network mechanisms underlying neuronal sound frequency selectivity are well studied and reflect the interplay of thalamocortical and intracortical excitatory inputs and further refinement by cortical inhibition, the precise synaptic signaling mechanisms remain less understood. To gain further understanding on these mechanisms and their effects on sound-driven behavior, we used in vivo imaging as well as behavioral approaches in awake and behaving female and male mice. We discovered that synaptic zinc, a modulator of neurotransmission and responsiveness to sound, sharpened the sound frequency tuning of principal and parvalbumin-expressing neurons and widened the sound frequency tuning of somatostatin-expressing inhibitory neurons in layer 2/3 of the primary auditory cortex. In the absence of cortical synaptic zinc, mice exhibited reduced acuity for detecting changes in sound frequencies. Together, our results reveal that cell-type-specific effects of zinc contribute to cortical sound frequency tuning and enhance acuity for sound frequency discrimination.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Neuronal tuning to specific features of sensory stimuli is a fundamental property of cortical sensory processing that advantageously supports behavior. Despite the established roles of synaptic thalamocortical and intracortical excitation and inhibition in cortical tuning, the precise synaptic signaling mechanisms remain unknown. Here, we investigated these mechanisms in the mouse auditory cortex. We discovered a previously unknown signaling mechanism linking synaptic zinc signaling with cell-specific cortical tuning and enhancement in sound frequency discrimination acuity. Given the abundance of synaptic zinc in all sensory cortices, this newly discovered interaction between synaptic zinc and cortical tuning can provide a general mechanism for modulating neuronal stimulus specificity and sensory-driven behavior.

Keywords: auditory cortex; cortical tuning; neuromodulation; sensory processing; synaptic signaling; synaptic zinc.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Female
  • Male
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Parvalbumins / metabolism
  • Pitch Discrimination / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Somatostatin / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Zinc / physiology*


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Parvalbumins
  • Slc30a3 protein, mouse
  • Somatostatin
  • Zinc