Responses to Predictable versus Random Temporally Complex Stimuli from Single Units in Auditory Thalamus: Impact of Aging and Anesthesia. Academic Article uri icon


  • Human aging studies suggest that an increased use of top-down knowledge-based resources would compensate for degraded upstream acoustic information to accurately identify important temporally rich signals. Sinusoidal amplitude-modulated (SAM) stimuli have been used to mimic the fast-changing temporal features in speech and species-specific vocalizations. Single units were recorded from auditory thalamus [medial geniculate body (MGB)] of young awake, aged awake, young anesthetized, and aged anesthetized rats. SAM stimuli were modulated between 2 and 1024 Hz with the modulation frequency (fm) changed randomly (RAN) across trials or sequentially (SEQ) after several repeated trials. Units were found to be RAN-preferring, SEQ-preferring, or nonselective based on total firing rate. Significant anesthesia and age effects were found. The majority (86%) of young anesthetized units preferred RAN SAM stimuli; significantly fewer young awake units (51%, p < 0.0001) preferred RAN SAM signals with 16% preferring SEQ SAM. Compared with young awake units, there was a significant increase of aged awake units preferring SEQ SAM (30%, p < 0.05). We examined RAN versus SEQ differences across fms by measuring selective fm areas under the rate modulation transfer function curve. The largest age-related differences from awake animals were found for mid-to-high fms in MGB units, with young units preferring RAN SAM while aged units showed a greater preference for SEQ-presented SAM. Together, these findings suggest that aged MGB units/animals employ increased top-down mediated stimulus context to enhance processing of "expected" temporally rich stimuli, especially at more challenging higher fms. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Older individuals compensate for impaired ascending acoustic information by increasing use of cortical cognitive and attentional resources. The interplay between ascending and descending influences in the thalamus may serve to enhance the salience of speech signals that are degraded as they ascend to the cortex. The present findings demonstrate that medial geniculate body units from awake rats show an age-related preference for predictable modulated signals relative to randomly presented signals, especially at higher, more challenging modulation frequencies. Conversely, units from anesthetized animals, with little top-down influences, strongly preferred randomly presented modulated sequences. These results suggest a neuronal substrate for an age-related increase in experience/attentional-based influences in processing temporally complex auditory information in the auditory thalamus.

publication date

  • October 12, 2016