Stress impacts sensory variability through cortical sensory activity motifs

Transl Psychiatry. 2020 Jan 21;10(1):20. doi: 10.1038/s41398-020-0713-1.


Medically unexplained symptoms in depression are common. These individual-specific complaints are often considered an 'idiom of distress', yet animal studies suggest that cortical sensory representations are flexible and influenced by spontaneous cortical activity. We hypothesized that stress would reveal activity dynamics in somatosensory cortex resulting in greater sensory-evoked response variability. Using millisecond resolution in vivo voltage sensitive dye (VSD) imaging in mouse neocortex, we characterized spontaneous regional depolarizations within limb and barrel regions of somatosensory cortex, or spontaneous sensory motifs, and their influence on sensory variability. Stress revealed an idiosyncratic increase in spontaneous sensory motifs that is normalized by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment. Spontaneous motif frequency is associated with increased variability in sensory-evoked responses, and we optogenetically demonstrate that regional depolarization in somatosensory cortex increases sensory-evoked variability for seconds. This reveals a putative circuit level target for changes in sensory processing and for unexplained physical complaints in stress-related psychopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Mice
  • Somatosensory Cortex*