Memory of cues associated with threat is critical for survival and a leading model for elucidating how sensory information is linked to adaptive behavior by learning. Although the brain-wide circuits mediating auditory threat memory have been intensely investigated, it remains unclear whether the auditory cortex is critically involved. Here we use optogenetic activity manipulations in defined cortical areas and output pathways, viral tracing, pathway-specific in vivo 2-photon calcium imaging, and computational analyses of population plasticity to reveal that the auditory cortex is selectively required for conditioning to complex stimuli, whereas the adjacent temporal association cortex controls all forms of auditory threat memory. More temporal areas have a stronger effect on memory and more neurons projecting to the lateral amygdala, which control memory to complex stimuli through a balanced form of population plasticity that selectively supports discrimination of significant sensory stimuli. Thus, neocortical processing plays a critical role in cued threat memory.
Keywords: associative learning; auditory cortex; behavior; brain-wide circuits; learning-related plasticity; neocortical circuits; neural population coding; stimulus complexity; temporal association cortex; threat conditioning.
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