Experience-dependent overrepresentation of ultrasonic vocalization frequencies in the rat primary auditory cortex

Heesoo Kim, Shaowen Bao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Cortical sensory representation is highly adaptive to the environment, and prevalent or behaviorally important stimuli are often overrepresented. One class of such stimuli is species-specific vocalizations. Rats vocalize in the ultrasonic range >30 kHz, but cortical representation of this frequency range has not been systematically examined. We recorded in vivo cortical electrophysiological responses to ultrasonic pure-tone pips, natural ultrasonic vocalizations, and pitch-shifted vocalizations to assess how rats represent this ethologically relevant frequency range. We find that nearly 40% of the primary auditory cortex (AI) represents an octave-wide band of ultrasonic vocalization frequencies (UVFs; 32-64 kHz) compared with <20% for other octave bands <32 kHz. These UVF neurons respond preferentially and reliably to ultrasonic vocalizations. The UVF overrepresentation matures in the cortex before it develops in the central nucleus of inferior colliculus, suggesting a cortical origin and corticofugal influences. Furthermore, the development of cortical UVF overrepresentation depends on early acoustic experience. These results indicate that natural sensory experience causes large-scale cortical map reorganization and improves representations of species-specific vocalizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1087-1096
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory cortex
  • Development
  • Inferior colliculus
  • Plasticity
  • Vocalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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