Auditory fear conditioning alters neural gain in the cochlear nucleus: a wireless neural recording study in freely behaving rats
journal contributionposted on 11.01.2021, 05:02 by Antonio Paolini, Simeon J Morgan, Jee Hyun Kim
Abstract Anxiety disorders involve distorted perception of the world including increased saliency of stress-associated cues. However, plasticity in the initial sensory regions of the brain following a fearful experience has never been examined. The cochlear nucleus (CN) is the first station in the central auditory system, with heterogeneous collections of neurons that not only project to but also receive projections from cortico-limbic regions, suggesting a potential for experience-dependent plasticity. Using wireless neural recordings in freely behaving rats, we demonstrate for the first time that neural gain in the CN is significantly altered by fear conditioning to auditory sequences. Specifically, the ventral subnuclei significantly increased firing rate to the conditioned tone sequence, while the dorsal subnuclei significantly decreased firing rate during the conditioning session overall. These findings suggest subregion-specific changes in the balance of inhibition and excitation in the CN as a result of conditioning experience. Heart rate was measured as the conditioned response (CR), which showed that while pre-conditioned stimulus (CS) responding did not change across baseline and conditioning sessions, significant changes in heart rate were observed to the tone sequence followed by shock. Heart-rate findings support acquisition of conditioned fear. Taken together, the present study presents first evidence for potential experience-dependent changes in auditory perception that involve novel plasticity within the first site of processing auditory information in the brain.