Inverted-U function relating cortical plasticity and task difficulty

N. D. Engineer, C. T. Engineer, A. C. Reed, P. K. Pandya, V. Jakkamsetti, R. Moucha, M. P. Kilgard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Many psychological and physiological studies with simple stimuli have suggested that perceptual learning specifically enhances the response of primary sensory cortex to task-relevant stimuli. The aim of this study was to determine whether auditory discrimination training on complex tasks enhances primary auditory cortex responses to a target sequence relative to non-target and novel sequences. We collected responses from more than 2000 sites in 31 rats trained on one of six discrimination tasks that differed primarily in the similarity of the target and distractor sequences. Unlike training with simple stimuli, long-term training with complex stimuli did not generate target-specific enhancement in any of the groups. Instead, cortical receptive field size decreased, latency decreased, and paired pulse depression decreased in rats trained on the tasks of intermediate difficulty, whereas tasks that were too easy or too difficult either did not alter or degraded cortical responses. These results suggest an inverted-U function relating neural plasticity and task difficulty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-90
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Mar 15 2012


  • Auditory cortex
  • Cortical plasticity
  • Operant training
  • Sequence learning
  • Task difficulty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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