Experience dependent changes in the auditory cortical representation of natural sounds
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Vocal communication sounds are an important class of signals due to their role in social interaction, reproduction, and survival. The higher-order mechanisms by which our auditory system detects and discriminates these sounds to generate perception is still poorly understood. The auditory cortex is thought to play an important role in this process, and our current work provides new evidence that the auditory cortex changes its neural representation of sounds that are acquired in natural social contexts. We use a mouse ultrasonic communication system between pups and adult females to elucidate this. We record single neurons in the auditory cortex of awake mice, and assess the cortical differences between animals that either do (mothers) or do not (naïve virgins) recognize the pup ultrasounds as behaviorally relevant. We then evaluate the role that pup experience and the maternal physiological state play in this cortical plasticity. Finally, we develop a model to predict the responses to pup vocalizations as a way to segregate the diversity of cortical neuronal responses in the hope of more clearly assessing their roles in processing acoustic features. Our results demonstrate the detailed nature by which the core auditory cortex processes natural vocalizations, showing how it changes to represent behavioral relevance.