Article abstract

Nature Neuroscience 12, 646 - 654 (2009)
Published online: 12 April 2009 | doi:10.1038/nn.2306

Engaging in an auditory task suppresses responses in auditory cortex

Gonzalo H Otazu1, Lung-Hao Tai1,2, Yang Yang1,2 & Anthony M Zador1

Although systems that are involved in attentional selection have been studied extensively, much less is known about nonselective systems. To study these preparatory mechanisms, we compared activity in auditory cortex that was elicited by sounds while rats performed an auditory task ('engaged') with activity that was elicited by identical stimuli while subjects were awake but not performing a task ('passive'). We found that engagement suppressed responses, an effect that was opposite in sign to that elicited by selective attention. In the auditory thalamus, however, engagement enhanced spontaneous firing rates but did not affect evoked responses. These results indicate that neural activity in auditory cortex cannot be viewed simply as a limited resource that is allocated in greater measure as the state of the animal passes from somnolent to passively listening to engaged and attentive. Instead, the engaged condition possesses a characteristic and distinct neural signature in which sound-evoked responses are paradoxically suppressed.

  1. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, USA.
  2. Graduate Program in Neuroscience, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA.

Correspondence to: Anthony M Zador1 e-mail:


These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.


Physiological Psychology: Controls without Mice

Nature News and Views (18 Jan 1969)

Awakening the brain

Nature News and Views (05 Sep 1996)

See all 7 matches for News And Views