Task-induced modulations of neuronal activity along the auditory pathway

Gioia De Franceschi1,2,*and Tania Rinaldi Barkat1,3,*

1Department of Biomedicien, Basel University, 4056 Basel, Switzerland
2Present address: EMBL Rome, 00015 Monterobondo, Rome, Italy

Sensory processing varies depending on behavioral context. Here, we ask how task-engagement modulates neurons in the auditory system. We train mice in a simple tone-detection task, and compare their neuronal activity during passive hearing and active listening. Electrophysiological extracellular recordings in the inferior colliculus, medial geniculate body, primary auditory cortex and anterior auditory field reveals widespread modulations across all regions and cortical layers, and in both putative regular and fast-spiking cortical neurons. Clustering analysis unveils ten distinct modulation patterns that can either enhance or suppress neuronal activity. Task-engagement changes the tone-onset response in most neurons. Such modulations first emerge in subcortical areas, ruling out cortical feedback as the only mechanism underlying subcortical modulations. Half the neurons additionally display late modulations associated with licking, arousal or reward. Our results reveal the presence of functionally distinct subclasses of neurons, differentially sensitive to specific task-related variables but anatomically distributed along the auditory pathway.

Cell Reports, December 2021