Top-down modulation of sensory cortex gates perceptual learning

Melissa L. Caras, Dan H. Sanes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Practice sharpens our perceptual judgments, a process known as perceptual learning. Although several brain regions and neural mechanisms have been proposed to support perceptual learning, formal tests of causality are lacking. Furthermore, the temporal relationship between neural and behavioral plasticity remains uncertain. To address these issues, we recorded the activity of auditory cortical neurons as gerbils trained on a sound detection task. Training led to improvements in cortical and behavioral sensitivity that were closely matched in terms of magnitude and time course. Surprisingly, the degree of neural improvement was behaviorally gated. During task performance, cortical improvements were large and predicted behavioral outcomes. In contrast, during nontask listening sessions, cortical improvements were weak and uncorrelated with perceptual performance. Targeted reduction of auditory cortical activity during training diminished perceptual learning while leaving psychometric performance largely unaffected. Collectively, our findings suggest that training facilitates perceptual learning by strengthening both bottom-up sensory encoding and top-down modulation of auditory cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9972-9977
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 12 2017


  • Auditory
  • Cortex
  • Learning
  • Plasticity
  • Top-down

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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