Sensory cortical neurons can nonlinearly integrate a wide range of inputs. The outcome of this nonlinear process can be approximated by more than one receptive field component or filter to characterize the ensuing stimulus preference. The functional properties of multidimensional filters are, however, not well understood. Here we estimated two spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs) per neuron using maximally informative dimension analysis. We compared their temporal and spectral modulation properties and determined the stimulus information captured by the two STRFs in core rat auditory cortical fields, primary auditory cortex (A1) and ventral auditory field (VAF). The first STRF is the dominant filter and acts as a sound feature detector in both fields. The second STRF is less feature specific, preferred lower modulations, and had less spike information compared to the first STRF. The information jointly captured by the two STRFs was larger than that captured by the sum of the individual STRFs, reflecting nonlinear interactions of two filters. This information gain was larger in A1. We next determined how the acoustic environment affects the structure and relationship of these two STRFs. Rats were exposed to moderate levels of spectrotemporally modulated noise during development. Noise exposure strongly altered the spectrotemporal preference of the first STRF in both cortical fields. The interaction between the two STRFs was reduced by noise exposure in A1 but not in VAF. The results reveal new functional distinctions between A1 and VAF indicating that (i) A1 has stronger interactions of the two STRFs than VAF, (ii) noise exposure diminishes modulation parameter representation contained in the noise more strongly for the first STRF in both fields, and (iii) plasticity induced by noise exposure can affect the strength of filter interactions in A1. Taken together, ascertaining two STRFs per neuron enhances the understanding of cortical information processing and plasticity effects in core auditory cortex.
Keywords: maximally informative dimension; primary auditory cortex; spectrotemporal receptive field; synergy; ventral auditory field.
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