Feedback signals from the primary auditory cortex (A1) can shape the receptive field properties of neurons in the ventral division of the medial geniculate body (MGBv). However, the behavioral significance of corticothalamic modulation is unknown. The aim of this study was to elucidate the role of this descending pathway in the perception of complex sounds. We tested the ability of adult female ferrets to detect the presence of a mistuned harmonic in a complex tone using a positive conditioned go/no-go behavioral paradigm before and after the input from layer VI in A1 to MGBv was bilaterally and selectively eliminated using chromophore-targeted laser photolysis. MGBv neurons were identified by their short latencies and sharp tuning curves. They responded robustly to harmonic complex tones and exhibited an increase in firing rate and temporal pattern changes when one frequency component in the complex tone was mistuned. Injections of fluorescent microbeads conjugated with a light-sensitive chromophore were made in MGBv, and, following retrograde transport to the cortical cell bodies, apoptosis was induced by infrared laser illumination of A1. This resulted in a selective loss of ∼60% of layer VI A1-MGBv neurons. After the lesion, mistuning detection was impaired, as indicated by decreased d' values, a shift of the psychometric curves toward higher mistuning values, and increased thresholds, whereas discrimination performance was unaffected when level cues were also available. Our results suggest that A1-MGBv corticothalamic feedback contributes to the detection of harmonicity, one of the most important grouping cues in the perception of complex sounds.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Perception of a complex auditory scene is based on the ability of the brain to group those sound components that belong to the same source and to segregate them from those belonging to different sources. Because two people talking simultaneously may differ in their voice pitch, perceiving the harmonic structure of sounds is very important for auditory scene analysis. Here we demonstrate mistuning sensitivity in the thalamus and that feedback from the primary auditory cortex is required for the normal ability of ferrets to detect a mistuned harmonic within a complex sound. These results provide novel insight into the function of descending sensory pathways in the brain and suggest that this corticothalamic circuit plays an important role in scene analysis.
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auditory cortex, behavior, chromophore-targeted laser photolysis, ferret, harmonic complex tones, medial geniculate body, Acoustic Stimulation, Animals, Auditory Cortex, Auditory Perception, Auditory Threshold, Behavior, Animal, Cues, Discrimination (Psychology), Feedback, Physiological, Female, Ferrets, Geniculate Bodies, Sound, Thalamus