Task Engagement Improves Neural Discriminability in the Auditory Midbrain of the Marmoset Monkey

J Neurosci. 2021 Jan 13;41(2):284-297. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1112-20.2020. Epub 2020 Nov 18.


While task-dependent changes have been demonstrated in auditory cortex for a number of behavioral paradigms and mammalian species, less is known about how behavioral state can influence neural coding in the midbrain areas that provide auditory information to cortex. We measured single-unit activity in the inferior colliculus (IC) of common marmosets of both sexes while they performed a tone-in-noise detection task and during passive presentation of identical task stimuli. In contrast to our previous study in the ferret IC, task engagement had little effect on sound-evoked activity in central (lemniscal) IC of the marmoset. However, activity was significantly modulated in noncentral fields, where responses were selectively enhanced for the target tone relative to the distractor noise. This led to an increase in neural discriminability between target and distractors. The results confirm that task engagement can modulate sound coding in the auditory midbrain, and support a hypothesis that subcortical pathways can mediate highly trained auditory behaviors.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT While the cerebral cortex is widely viewed as playing an essential role in the learning and performance of complex auditory behaviors, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of brainstem and midbrain areas that process sound information before it reaches cortex. This study demonstrates that the auditory midbrain is also modulated during behavior. These modulations amplify task-relevant sensory information, a process that is traditionally attributed to cortex.

Keywords: Inferior Colliculus; auditory discrimination; subcortical plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Callithrix
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Ferrets
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Noise
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology