Sensory systems perform adaptive processing of the sensory environment on a moment-to- moment basis. In the cortex, adaptive processing develops the basic network, optimizes sensory learning for specific perceptual tasks, and supports compensatory responses to long- term changes in sensory input. Cortical plasticity depends on the organization of intracortical circuits as well as the intrinsic plasticity of local microcircuits. In this proposal, we will explore local circuit organization within and orthogonal to the tonotopic axes of the primary auditory cortex, the mechanisms regulating synaptic plasticity in those circuits, and the effects of hearing loss on circuit organization and synaptic plasticity. In the first aim, we will test the hypothesis that the organization of synaptic connections in L2/3 in primary auditory cortex is anisotropic with respect to the tonotopic axes, and we will compare the strength and organization of the supragranular input to L4 neurons with that from layers 5 and 6. We will measure the tonotopic map, then use a thalamocortical brain slice preparation to dissect the responses of morphologically identified neurons in physiologically defined regions to thalamic stimulation and to local intracortical stimulation, using a combination of electrophysiological and optical methods. In the second aim, we will examine cellular mechanisms that regulate a key trigger of synaptic plasticity, action potential back-propagation, in dendrites of L4 and L2/3 neurons. Stimulation of basal forebrain cholinergic systems has been shown to enhance map plasticity in vivo, and we find that activation of cholinergic receptors in auditory cortex affects spike timing-dependent plasticity. We will test the hypotheses that dendritic potassium channels regulate calcium signaling produced by back-propagating action potentials in dendrites, and that these channels are in turn regulated by muscarinic receptor activation. In the third aim we will test the hypothesis that noise-induced hearing loss increases synaptic connectivity between L2/3 pyramidal neurons in the normal-hearing region and the hearing- loss region, and that the hearing loss also decreases synaptic plasticity. Our experiments are aimed at identifying key circuits and cellular mechanisms that support adaptive processing functions at the initial stages of cortical processing, and to understand how those mechanisms respond to hearing loss.
The neural mechanisms of sensory processing in the brain underlie our normal perceptual abilities, including the identification of sound sources and the ability to communicate through sound. These mechanisms are changed by damage to the sensory organs, and consequently, residual perceptual abilities are often adversely affected. In this project, we seek to understand the functional synaptic organization of the primary auditory cortex, and the mechanisms that underlie one kind of plasticity that occurs in cortex. We will also determine how these network connections and plasticity are affected by a noise-induced high- frequency hearing loss. Our goal is to understand how hearing loss affects the neural substrate for auditory perception, so that we can identify strategies that can help optimize hearing.
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