Dissociation of task engagement and arousal effects in auditory cortex and midbrain

Elife. 2021 Feb 11;10:e60153. doi: 10.7554/eLife.60153.

Abstract

Both generalized arousal and engagement in a specific task influence sensory neural processing. To isolate effects of these state variables in the auditory system, we recorded single-unit activity from primary auditory cortex (A1) and inferior colliculus (IC) of ferrets during a tone detection task, while monitoring arousal via changes in pupil size. We used a generalized linear model to assess the influence of task engagement and pupil size on sound-evoked activity. In both areas, these two variables affected independent neural populations. Pupil size effects were more prominent in IC, while pupil and task engagement effects were equally likely in A1. Task engagement was correlated with larger pupil; thus, some apparent effects of task engagement should in fact be attributed to fluctuations in pupil size. These results indicate a hierarchy of auditory processing, where generalized arousal enhances activity in midbrain, and effects specific to task engagement become more prominent in cortex.

Keywords: arousal; auditory; behavior; cortex; encoding; midbrain; neuroscience.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Ferrets / physiology*
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Pupil / physiology