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Single cell plasticity and population coding stability in auditory thalamus upon associative learning

Authors: James Alexander Taylor, Masashi Hasegawa, Chloé Maëlle Benoit, Joana Amorim Freire, Marine Theodore, Dan Alin Ganea, Sabrina Milena Innocenti, Tingjia Lu & Jan Gründemann
Publication: Nature Communications
Date: April 26, 2021
Link to article: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-22421-8


Cortical and limbic brain areas are regarded as centres for learning. However, how thalamic sensory relays participate in plasticity upon associative learning, yet support stable long-term sensory coding remains unknown. Using a miniature microscope imaging approach, we monitor the activity of populations of auditory thalamus (medial geniculate body) neurons in freely moving mice upon fear conditioning. We find that single cells exhibit mixed selectivity and heterogeneous plasticity patterns to auditory and aversive stimuli upon learning, which is conserved in amygdala-projecting medial geniculate body neurons. Activity in auditory thalamus to amygdala-projecting neurons stabilizes single cell plasticity in the total medial geniculate body population and is necessary for fear memory consolidation. In contrast to individual cells, population level encoding of auditory stimuli remained stable across days. Our data identifies auditory thalamus as a site for complex neuronal plasticity in fear learning upstream of the amygdala that is in an ideal position to drive plasticity in cortical and limbic brain areas. These findings suggest that medial geniculate body’s role goes beyond a sole relay function by balancing experience-dependent, diverse single cell plasticity with consistent ensemble level representations of the sensory environment to support stable auditory perception with minimal affective bias.

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